A name in Italian
consists of a given name
) and a surname
). Surnames are normally written after given names. Occasionally in official documents, the surname may be written before given names. In speech, the use of given name before family name is standard.
Italian names are not entirely equivalent to ancient Latin ones, for instance, the Italian nome is not analogous to the ancient Roman nomen, since the former is the given name (distinct between siblings) while the latter the family name (inherited, thus shared by all siblings).
Many Italian male given names end in -o
but can also end in -e
(for example Achille
), in -i
(for example Dionigi
) and in -a
(for example Andrea
, which in Italian is a male name, Battista
). Some names, usually of foreign origin, end with a consonant, such as Christian
Female names end in -a but can also end in -e, as is the case with Adelaide, Adele, Agnese, Alice, Beatrice, Berenice, Clarice, Cloe, Geltrude, Irene, Matilde, Rachele, and Zoe for example, in -i (for example Noemi), or even with a consonant (e.g. Nives, Ester).
A few names end with an accented vowel, for instance Niccolò and Giosuè.
Almost every base name can have a diminutive form ending with -ino/-ina or -etto/etta as in Paolino/Paoletto and Paolina/Paoletta from Paolo and Paola, -ello/-ella, as in Donatello/Donatella from Donato and Donata, or -uccio/-uccia, as in Guiduccio from Guido. The forms -uzzo/-uzza, as in Santuzza from Santa, are typical of Sicilian dialect.
The most common names are:
Since the ancient Romans had a very limited stock of given names (praenomina), very few modern Italian given names (nomi) are derived directly from the classical ones. A rare example would be Marco (from Marcus). Some nomi were taken from classical clan names (nomina) — for their meanings or because they are euphonic, not necessarily because the nameholder is the descendant of the clan, such as Emilio/Emilia (from Aemilius), Valerio/Valeria (from Valerius), Claudio/Claudia (from Claudius), Orazio (from Horatius), and Fabiano (from the cognomen Fabianus), Flavio/Flavia from (flavus).
Italy has the largest collection of surnames (cognomi
) in the world, with over 350,000. Men – except slaves – in ancient Rome
always had hereditary surnames, i.e., nomen
(clan name) and cognomen
(side-clan name). However, the multi-name tradition was lost by the Middle Age
and wasn't until the 1564 Council of Trento
that registration of surnames mandatory in parishes.
A large number of Italian surnames end in i
. This is the result of the medieval Italian habit of identifying families by the name of their ancestors in the plural (which have an -i
suffix in Italian). For instance, Filippo from the Ormanno family (gli Ormanni
) would be called "messer Filippo degli Ormanni" ("Mr. Filippo of the Ormannos"). In time, the middle possessive portion was dropped but surnames became permanently pluralized and never referred to in the singular, even for a single person, hence Filippo Ormanno would be known as Filippo Ormanni. Some families, however, opted to retain the possessive portion of their surnames, for instance Lorenzo de' Medici
literally means "Lorenzo of the Medici" (de'
is a contraction of dei
, also meaning "of the").
Some common suffixes indicate endearment (which may also become pluralized and receive an -i ending), for example:
- -ello/illo/etto/ino (diminutive "little"), e.g., Bernardino, Bernardello
- -one (augmentative "big"), e.g., Mangione
- -accio/azzo/asso (pejorative ), e.g., Boccaccio
Other endings are characteristic of certain regions:
- Veneto: -asso and consonants (l, n, r): Bissacco, Brombal and Benetton
- Sicily: -alaro and -isi: Favaloro, Puglisi
- Lombardy: -ago/ghi and -ate/ati: Salmoiraghi, Bonati
- Friuli: -otti/utti and -t: Bortolotti, Rigonat
- Tuscany: -ai and -aci/ecci/ucci: Bollai, Balducci
- Sardinia: -u and -as: Schirru, Marras
- Piedmont: -ero, -audi, -asco,-zzi: Ferrero, Rambaudi, Comaco, Bonazzi
- Calabria: -ace: Storace
Like most other European surnames, patronymics
are common. Originally they were indicated by a possessive, e.g., Francesco de Bernardo, meaning "Francis (the son) of Bernard". De Luca
("[son] of Luke") remains one of the most common Italian surnames. However, de
("of") was often dropped and suffixes added, hence de Bernardo
evolved to be Bernardo
and eventually pluralized as Bernardi
above). Sometimes the names of two ancestors could merge into one, Colaianni
is a fusion of Nicola
The origin residence of the family gave rise to many surnames, e.g.,
- habitat: Della Valle ("of a valley"), Montagna ("mountain"), Burroni ("ravines")
- specific placename: Romano ("Roman"), Puglisi/Pugliese ("Apulian"), Greco ("Greek"), da Vinci ("from Vinci")
- nearby landmarks: La Porta ("the gate"), Fontana ("fountain"), Torregrossa ("big tower"), D'Arco ("of the arch")
Ancestors' occupation was also a great source of surnames.
- Job title: Contadino ("farmer"), Tagliabue ("ox-cutter"), Passagero ("toll-collector")
- Objects (metonyms) associated with the vocation: Zappa ("hoe", farmer), Delle Fave ("of the beans", grocer), Martelli ("hammer", carpenter), Tenaglia ("pincer", smith), Farina ("flour", baker), Forni ("ovens", cook), Marin ("sea", fisherman)
Nicknames, referring to physical attributes or mannerism, also gave rise to some family names, e.g., Rossi (from rosso "redhead"), Basso ("short"), Caporaso ("shaved head"), Pappalardo ("lard-eater"), and Barbagelata ("frozen beard").
Few family names are still in the original Latin, and usually they indicate from or with pretensions to antiquity, e.g. Santorum or de Laurentiis. Despite notions of this indicating nobility, it actually reflects that the family name has been preserved from Medieval Latin sources as a part of their business or household documentation or church records.
Beginning in the Renaissance
, when referring to others by their surnames alone, Italians used a definite article as well (in the singular, il
for most parts, and l'
before vowels). Mario Russo, therefore, would be called il Russo
("the Russo"), especially in the literary circles and in writing. Given names usually were not preceded by an article. Il Mario Russo
was considered by learned Italians to be erroneous, while il Russo Mario
correct. However, in northern Italy, given names–especially female's–were preceded by articles (la Maria
, la Gianna
Names that are derived from possessions of noble families normally never had articles preceding them, e.g., Farnese (from a territorial holding) and Cornaro (from a bishopric). Articles were omitted for those surnames with an identifiable foreign origin (including Latin ones), e.g., Cicerone.
This practice somewhat resembles the Greek custom of placing definite articles before all names (see Greek names). This Greco-Italian practice even spread to French in the 17th century, especially in writings regarding figures in the fields of literature and painting, e.g., le Poussin.
The practice using articles before surnames was less common in ordinary conversation and middle-class speech. After the 19th century (Napoleonic era), the custom started to dwindle in all contexts and has basically died out by the 1900, except in the most formal documents (e.g., legal proceedings), and some fixed locutions (il Petrarca and less so il Boccaccio).