Prontuario dei nomi locali dell'Alto Adige

The Prontuario dei nomi locali dell'Alto Adige, in English Reference Work of Place Names in Alto Adige, is a list of Italianized place names in Alto Adige which was published in 1916 by the Reale Società Geografica Italiana (Royal Italian Geographic Society). The list was called the Prontuario in short and later formed an important part of the Italianization process initiated by the fascists, as it was the basis for the official place and district names in the province of Bolzano.

It has often been criticised by the German speaking population of the province on the grounds that the new names have little historical relevance and many entirely new names were introduced.


In the 1890s Ettore Tolomei founded a nationalist magazine "The Italian Nation", and in 1906 the "Archivio per l'Alto Adige". His intention was to create the impression that South Tyrol had originally been an Italian territory, that the German history of South Tyrol was merely a short interruption and that as a consequence the land rightfully belonged to Italy.

Toponomy played a major part in Tolomei's struggle right from the beginning. In the articles he wrote for The Italian Nation he already used italianized names, although these early attempts lacked the method and purpose of his later activities. In those days he would use the name Alto Trentino - High Trentino for South Tyrol, not having yet come upon and revived the Napoleonic creation Alto Adige - High Adige, which would become the official italian designation for the province after World War I and up to this day. Likewise, he used to call the Brenner Pass "Pirene", which in his later publications would become "Brennero. His work became more systematical with the founding of the Archivio per l' Alto Adige, through which he began to propose italianized names for villages and geographical features in South Tyrol. In 1916, a year after Italy, instigated by Allied promises and its own nationalist tendencies, entered the First World War, a commission was set up to find Italian names for places in the "soon to be conquered territory". The commission (composed of Tolomei himself, Professor of Botany and Chemistry Ettore De Toni as well as the librarian Vittorio Baroncelli) reported almost 12,000 Italian place and district names on the basis of Tolomei's studies. In June 1916, this list was published as Volume XV, Part II of Memorie of the Reale Società Geografica Italiana as well as in the Archivio per l'Alto Adige.


In 1923, three years after South Tyrol had been formally annexed, Italian place names, almost entirely based on the Prontuario, were made official by means of a royal decree. German and Ladin names were banned. In 1940, the fascist government legalized the new names.

After the end of the Second World War, reform processes tolerated the dual use of names on street signs, while the Italian names remain as the official ones, based on the 1940 law.

In the 1990s, a commission consisting of the Professors Josef Breu (Vienna, representing Austria in the Toponymy commission of the UN), Peter Glatthard (Berne) and Carlo Alberto Mastrelli (Florence, current "Archivio per l'Alto Adige") failed as Mastrelli insisted on the fascist decrees, while Breu and Glatthard promoted the UN-Guidelines.


Tolomei explained the methodology for finding Italian names in his introduction to the Prontuario. The main principles are:

  1. Ladin names would be adapted to the current Italian pronunciation;
  2. Pre-existing Italian names: e.g. (Bozen-Bolzano, Meran-Merano) where not changed, though there are exceptions;
  3. Names of pre-romanic, rhaetic origin were not changed if they had been latinized by the romanic population. Germanized rhaetic names where replaced by a latinized form. The same method was applied in the case of names with a celtic origin;
  4. German names going back to a romanic form where to be returned to their latin antecedent;
  5. Irreducibly German names where translated into Italian or substituted with Italian names. This was done by phonetic reduction, where the name was simply italianized (normally by adding a vowel to the end of the name), e.g. Brenner-Brennero or for Moos-Moso. Or by direct translation, e.g. Lago Verde (green lake) for Grünsee; this was a frequent source of mistakes, as Linsberg was translated with Monte Luigi, a name also used as the translation of Luisberg; Blumau was wrongly interpreted as flower valley, and translated to meadow Prato all'Isarco. Alternatively, the name of the patron saint of the town was used, e.g. Innichen-San Candido, or the Italian name was inspired by geographical derivations: e.g. Colle Isarco (Hill-upon-Isarco) for Gossensaß.

This methodology was however not applied in a uniform, consistent manner, so that often the choice of name seems to have been arbitrary, thus increasing the perception of imposition. While the aim of Tolomeis toponymy was that of bringing the Latin history back to the surface, more often than not it managed to bury the romanic roots of historically grown names even deeper, partly due to the linguistic incompetence of Tolomei and his team. This can be exemplified by the name of the village Lana, which probably goes back to a roman landholder named Leo, whose territory was called (praedium) Leonianum. In the High Middle Ages the name was pronounced Lounan. In the bavarian dialect the vocal ou changed to a in the 12th century, leading to Lanan, which became today's Lana in German. Contrary to his stated methodology Tolomei kept the name Lana, probably because it sounded italian and in italian "lana" means "wool". The correct italianisation would have been "Leoniano". The same applies to German Trens and Terenten, derived from Latin torrens (stream), which where italianized as Trens and Terento, not recognizing the romanic roots still present in the German name. Apart from the frequent mistakes and inconsistencies of Tolomeis toponymy, its main fault is the loss of historical information contained in the historically grown geographical names, an effect which was fully intended by Tolomei. Instead of bringing back alpine romanity which spoke a rhaeto-romance language, he superimposed the "tuscan" language on which modern italian is based on the local romanic traditions. A case in point is the name Vipiteno, derived from Latin Vipitenum. Tolomei preferred this Latin name to Sterzen, the name commonly used by italians at that time. In doing so, however, he unwittingly chose an already germanified name. The original alpine-romanic name would have been Vibidina. The German sound change in the 8th century changed this into Wipitina. As such it was first mentioned in the medieval latin manuscripts, and in the more recent ones it was further latinized into Vipitenum, a name which sounded as if it could have been of ancient roman origin and thus was chosen by Tolomei. This shows that while Tolomeis stated intention was to restore South Tyrol to its original romanity, his actual policy was that of a political italianization of the territory, and to this goal all his purportedly scientific activities where subordinate.

External links

See also



  • F. Bartaletti, Geografia, toponomastica e identità culturale: il caso del Sudtirolo, in “Miscellanea di storia delle esplorazioni XXVII”, Genova. 2002, pp. 269-315. Reprinted in Quaderni Padani, 51/52:37-61, 2004
  • Benvenuti, Sergio; Hartungen, Christoph von (eds.) (1998). Ettore Tolomei (1865-1952). Un nazionalista di confine. Die Grenzen des Nationalismus. Trento: Museo Storico in Trento.
  • Framke, Gisela (1987). Im Kampf um Südtirol. Ettore Tolomei (1865-1952) und das ‚Archivio per l'Alto Adige'. Tübingen: M. Niemeyer.
  • Kramer, Johannes (1996). "Die Italianisierung der Südtiroler Ortsnamen und die Polonisierung der ostdeutschen Toponomastik". Romanistik in Geschichte und Gegenwart 2 (1): 45-62.
  • Kühebacher, Egon (1998). Zur Arbeitsweise Ettore Tolomeis bei der Italianisierung der Südtiroler Ortsnamen, in Benvenuti, Sergio; Hartungen, Christoph von (eds.) (1998). Ettore Tolomei (1865-1952). Un nazionalista di confine. Die Grenzen des Nationalismus. Trento: Museo Storico in Trento, pp. 279-294.
  • Steininger, Rolf (2003). South Tyrol: a minority conflict of the twentieth century. New Brunswick, N.J., U.S.A: Transaction Publishers.

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