A name in Italian consists of a given name (nome) and a surname (cognome). Surnames are normally written after given names. In official documents, the surname may be written before given names. In speech, the use of given name before family name is standard in an educated style, but, due to bureaucratic influence, the opposite was common (but now it's deprecated).
Italian names, with their fixed nome + cognome structure, have little to do with the ancient Roman naming conventions, which used a tripartite system of given name + gentile name + hereditary or personal name or names. E.g., 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 gentile name (inherited, thus shared by all belonging to a gens). Female name giving tradition and name changing rules after adoption for both sexes also differ between Roman antiquity and modern Italian use. Moreover, the low number and steady decline of importance and variety of Roman praenomina is in stark contrast with the current number of Italian given names.
Many Italian male given names end in -o but can also end in -e (for example Achille, Aimone, Alceste, Alcide, Amilcare, Amintore, Annibale, Aristotele, Astorre, Baldassare, Beppe, Carmine, Cesare, Clemente, Daniele, Dante, Davide, Emanuele, Ercole, Ettore, Felice, Gabriele, Gaspare, Gastone, Gentile, Giosuè, Giuseppe, Leone, Melchiorre, Michele, Oddone, Ottone, Pasquale, Raffaele, Salomone, Salvatore, Samuele, Sante, Scipione, Simone, Ulisse, Vitale, Vittore), in -i (for example Dionigi, Gianni, Giovanni, Luigi, Nanni, Ranieri) and in -a (for example Andrea, Battista, Elia, Enea, Evangelista, Luca, Mattia or Nicola). Some names, usually of foreign origin, end with a consonant, such as Christian/Cristian, Igor, Ivan, Loris, Oscar and Walter/Valter.
Female names end in -a but can also end in -e, as is the case with Adelaide, Adele, Agnese, Alice, Beatrice, Berenice, Geltrude, Irene, Matilde and Rachele 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 language.
- For males: Marco, Giuseppe, Antonio, Luca, Alessandro, Giovanni, Roberto, Andrea, Stefano, Francesco, Mario, Luigi.
- For females: Anna, Maria, Sara, Laura, Valentina, Giulia, Rosa, Giuseppina, Angela, Giovanna.
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, such as Emilio/Emilia (from Aemilius), Valerio/Valeria (from Valerius), Claudio/Claudia (from Claudius), Orazio (from Horatius), and Fabio (from the cognomen Fabius), Flavio/Flavia (from Flavius).
Italy and Italians have the largest collection of surnames (cognomi) of any ethnicity 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 Ages. Outside the aristocracy, where surnames were often patronymic or those of manors or fiefs, most Italians began to assume hereditary surnames around 1450.
A large number of Italian surnames end in i, due to the medieval Italian habit of identifying families by the name of the ancestors in the plural (which have an -i suffix in Italian). For instance, Filippo from the Ormanno family (gli Ormanni) would be called "signor Filippo degli Ormanni" ("Mr. Filippo of the Ormannos"). In time, the middle possessive portion ("of the") was dropped, but surnames became permanently pluralized and never referred to in the singular, even for a single person. Filippo Ormanno would therefore 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"; c.f. The Medicis).
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., Bernardello, Iannuccillo, Bortoletto, Bernardino, Ravelino
- -one (augmentative "big"), e.g., Mangione
- -accio/azzo/asso (pejorative), e.g., Boccaccio
Other endings are characteristic of certain regions:
- Veneto: -asso, -ato/ati, and consonants (l, n, r); -on: Bissacco, Zoccarato, Cavinato, Brombal, Meneghin, Perin, Vazzoler, Peron, Francescon, Zanon, Fanton, Pizzati
- Sicily: -aro, -isi and "osso": Cavallaro, Rosi, Rosso (Sicily, Piedmont and Veneto)
- Lombardy: -ago/ghi, -engo/enghi, -ate/ati/atti: Salmoiraghi, Ornaghi, Lunati, Bonatti, Vernengo, Lambertenghi, Moratti, Orsatti
- Friuli: -otti/utti and -t: Bortolotti, Pascutti, Codutti, Rigonat, Ret
- Tuscany: -ai and -aci/ecci/ucci: Bollai, Balducci
- Sardinia: -u, -as and -is: Pusceddu, Piccinnu, Schirru, Marras, Argiolas, Floris, Melis, Abis
- Piedmont: -ero, -audi, -asco,-zzi, -anti, -ini: Ferrero, Rambaudi, Comaco, Bonazzi, Santi, Baldovini
- Calabria: -ace: Storace
- Campania: -iello: Borriello, Carniello
As in most other European naming traditions, 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 (see Suffixes above).
The origin or residence of the family gave rise to many surnames, e.g.,
- habitat: Della Valle ("of the valley"), Montagna ("mountain"), Burroni ("ravines")
- specific placename: Romano ("Roman"), Puglisi/Pugliese ("Apulian"), Greco ("Greek"), da Vinci ("from Vinci"), Calabrese ("from Calabria"), Genovese ("from Genoa")
- 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), Ferraro ("blacksmith")
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", originally an abusive nickname for one who professed himself a devout person but ate meat and fatty dishes in forbidden times), Rumore ("Noise"), and Barbagelata ("frozen beard").
A few family names are still in the original Latin, like Santorum, De Juliis, Canalis and De Laurentiis, reflecting that the family name has been preserved from Medieval Latin sources as a part of their business or household documentation or church records.
The traditional rule, and the common usage especially in Tuscany, is that, when referring to people by their surnames alone, the definite article should be used (il for most parts, lo before some consonants and consonant clusters, and l' before vowels). Mario Russo, therefore, is called il Russo ("the Russo"). Nowadays, some prefer to use the article only, or chiefly, with historical surnames ("l'Ariosto", "il Manzoni", etc.)
Male given names are never preceded by an article, except in popular northern regional usage.
However, in Tuscany and in northern Italy females' given names are usually preceded by articles (la Maria, la Gianna), unless one is speaking of a personally unknown woman (such as Cleopatra, Maria Stuarda, with no article). This is also the traditional grammar rule.
Articles are also used (more often than with men) with the surnames of women: Gianni Rossi can be called il Rossi or (especially nowadays) simply Rossi, but Maria Bianchi is usually la Bianchi (also la Maria Bianchi).
Placing the surname before the name is considered incorrect (except in bureaucratic usage), and is often stigmatized as a shibboleth of illiteracy.
Names that are derived from possessions of noble families normally never had articles preceding them such as Farnese (from a territorial holding) and Cornaro (from a bishopric). Articles were omitted for those surnames with an identifiable foreign origin (including Latin ones) such as 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 literature and painting such as le Poussin.
- Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd Ed. (1970)
- Burgio, Dizionario dei nomi propri di persona, ISBN 88-7938-013-3
- Paginebianche.it | Facciamo Nomi e Cognomi
- I nomi più comuni in Italia
- Il Corriere della Sera (Sept 15, 2006), L'Italia è il regno dei cognomi & La provenienza geografica dei cognomi
- Italian Surnames -The Funny, Surprising, and Just Plain Weird
- Italy World Club, Italian Surnames: Etymology and Origin
- Hall, Robert A. (1941), "Definite Article + Family Name in Italian". Language 17 (1): 33–39
- De Felice, Emidio (1978). Dizionario dei cognomi italiani. Milano: Mondadori.
- Meyer-Lübke. Grammaire des langues romanes 3 §150.
- List of Female and Male Italian Names
- Italian Surnames: The Funny, Surprising, and Just Plain Weird
- La mappa dei cognomi: Enter an Italian surname to see its distribution