Understanding our surnames is a really important element of any One-Name study. In much the same way as building a house, with the foundations first, a One-Name study is build and developed the same way.
In today’s post I am going to focus on Italian surnames and why they perhaps give us some insight.
There is nothing more frustrating than looking for your Italian ancestor on Census or document and where it says place of birth it simply says Italy. By understanding the surname, it perhaps gives us further clues.
Italian surnames are mostly derived from:
- Patronymics, meaning they are essentially from the male of the household, and that might include any variation to the name – such as Giovanni
- Geographical, based upon the place – such as Bulgari, Lazio, Sutera,
- Nicknames – and not always complementary ones – Grassi (big or fat), Forte (strong), Gambacorta (short leg), Gentile (Gentle)
- Occupational – Medici (Physician), Pastore (shepherd), Barbieri (barber)
Some spellings might determine a specific region:
- Those ending in isi as in Troisi, could indicate the family is from Neapolitan or Sicilian.
- Surnames ending aloro such as Favaloro are Sicilian surnames.
- Surnames ending igo such as Barbarigo are Venetian
- Those ending with utti such as Zanut are from Fiuli Venezia Giulia (on the border with Slovenia and Austria)
- Those ending iu such as Mongiu are Sardinian
Old records may also influence some surnames as they are converted from Latin to Italian and sometimes in to dialect. Later changes may have occurred as the are converted into English or Americanised – Giuseppe Pastore converts to Joseph or Joe Shepherd.
Those children who were foundlings often have a surname of the town where they were found, and were often stigmatised because of that. Later the ruling changed so that the children were given the name of another town, which of course didn’t help with the stigma issue either, especially if that surname did not exist significantly in the town. In these cases a DNA test might help.
We look at a number of the points raised here and especially over the last few posts (S for Synthesis and T for thinking about surnames) in the Introduction to One-Name Studies course.