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Video:How to Uncover Italian Heritage With Surnames

with Zoya Popova

Italian surnames come from a variety of places, but it's easy to tell their origins when you know the most common sources. Here are a few guidelines for figuring out the origins of various Italian surnames.See Transcript

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Transcript:How to Uncover Italian Heritage With Surnames

Hi, I'm Zoya Popova for About.com, and today, we're going to talk about uncovering your Italian heritage through surnames.

Patronymic Italian Surnames

Italian surnames come from a variety of sources. One of the most widespread groups of Italian surnames is patronymic surnames, which appeared as a way to distinguish between people bearing the same given name by referring to their parent's name. Historically, the first way to reflect the son-father relationship was through the preposition "di" or its Latin analog, "de", meaning "of". Examples are surnames like de Luca, di Paolo, and d'Alberto. Another very common way of forming Italian patronymic surnames was by putting the father's name into plural. And this is how it worked. If a certain person, let's say, Bernardo, was well-known and respected in a certain town, his family would refer to themselves as "gli Bernardi", meaning "the Bernardos". Eventually the article was dropped, and the family members would end up with the permanent surname Bernardi. And this is why so many Italian surnames end in -i: Alberti, Paoli, and so on. It should be noted that Italian patronymic surnames use a wide variety of suffixes, allowing to draw several forms of surnames from the same given name. For example, the name Giovanni is the source of over 2 dozen different surnames, including Giovannini, Giovannetti, Giovannelli, Giovanniello, Giovannoni, Giovannardi, Giovanatti, and Giovannucci.

Occupational Italian Surnames

A stunning variability of forms is also present in the second group of Italian surnames – occupational surnames. For example, the well-known surname Ferrari comes from the Latin "ferrarius", meaning "blacksmith". But it has also has alternative forms, such as Ferrario, Ferraris, and Ferrarini. Another occupational surname, Mastro, from "maestro", meaning "teacher", was often combined with a given name, resulting in interesting surnames such as Mastroianni (Mastro+Giovanni), Mastroguiseppe (Mastro+Guiseppe), and Mastroleo (Mastro+Leo/Leonardo).

Geographical Italian Surnames

The third significant group of Italian surnames is geographical surnames. Examples include Pugliese, meaning "a resident of Apulia"; Romano - "a Roman, a resident of Rome"; and Greco, indicating a person of Greek origin.

Descriptive Italian Surnames

Finally, the fourth group of Italian surnames is descriptive surnames, originating from nicknames that were used to describe people's behaviors or physical attributes. For instance, Russo and Rossi both come from "rosso", meaning "redhead"; and Ricci and Rizzo both come from "riccio" – "curly". Among the Italian descriptive surnames, you may find examples which are truly mind-boggling. An interesting case in point are the different surnames that starting with "Mangia-" or "Mancia-", from "mangiare" - "to eat". For example, in the surnames Mangiacapre ("one who eats goats") and Mangiagalli ("one who eats chickens") "mangiare" doesn't mean really mean "to eat". It rather refers to a person who made their living stealing goats and chickens.

So, as you can see, researching Italian surnames can be a fascinating experience. Thank you for watching, and for more information, please visit us at About.com.

 

Read the related article:

Italian Surname Meanings & Origins

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