Surnames and their Meanings
Delving into the research of surnames, also known as last names or family
names, is an exciting way to learn more about your family history. When
researching Italian surnames, you will quickly find that each family name in
Italy was formed for a particular purpose. Italy
has always been known for its lively and extraordinary land and people, and
Italian names exhibit these same qualities.
In the age of ancient Rome, individuals were named in three parts. These
parts included a basic first name, a name in which a person's family was
identified, and also a unique name that described that individual. This
three part name was common throughout Italian history until the medieval
days, when the latter two names were dropped and people were known only by
one name. This tradition of only giving one name began to cause confusion
among citizens, and slowly Italians began adding a second distinguishing
label to their names. By
the 15th century, most Italians identified themselves by their individual
name as well as a surname. Surnames
in Italy very commonly identified a person by their family or their father.
These types of surnames are known as patronymics. Italian surnames that
include a prefix of "di" or "da" often mean "son of." For example, "di
Francesco" would be mean "son of Francesco." The suffix "-ucci" also means "descendant
Italian surnames can also identify where an individual is from. Some of
these surnames simply identify a person with local geography, such as "di
Montagna" for "of the mountain." Individuals or families that migrated often
took on a surname that described their region of origin, such as "Milani" or
"Romano" if they were from Milan or Rome.
Occupations were also commonly used to form surnames. A person could carry
the name of the occupation, such as "Zappa" for farmer, but it was also
common for Italians to choose a surname that described an animal or object
associated with their occupation.
Of all Italian surnames, the most entertaining and unusual names can be
found from the family names formed from nicknames. These could virtually
describe any detail about an individual, from their hair color to the
appearance of their teeth to their height., such as using the name "Basso,"
which means short. Some of these names even went as far as to describe a
person's eating habits!
Whatever your genealogy, if an Italian surname is part of your ancestral
past, it will no doubt provide you with many interesting details as to where
your family originated from and what they were like.
By Elizabeth Walling