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The Origin of Italian Surnames

The SURNAME, also called FAMILY NAME, is nowadays added to an original or baptismal name, inherited and held in common by members of a family. The Italian word "cognome" comes from the Latin "cum nomine", something that accompanies the name.

Latest additions:

In antiquity no surnames were used, then for the first time in ancient Rome the use of the tria nomina for the citizens was established. As an example, the three parts in "Marcus Tullius Cicero", consisted of "Marcus" - the prenomen, or individual's name; "Tullius", the nomen identifying the gens or family, and the cognomen "Cicero" which was a kind of nickname to identify the individual still further.

This custom was lost in the Middle Ages, and individuals were known just with their baptismal name, as Gionata, Giuseppe, Simeone, until about the year 1000, when starting from Venice already a second name was added, to avoid confusion. The custom gradually spread from the nobility to all classes of people, and by the 15th century most surnames were formed. Finally in 1564 the Council of Trento ordered parish priests to record each individual with name and surname.

When it was necessary to distinguish individuals with the same Christian name, often the name of the father was added - Giovanni son of Berardo, which was shortened to Giovanni di Berardo or Giovanni Berardi, similarly to what happens in the English language with the suffix "-son". In the place of the father's name, especially if the father was not known by the community since the individual had come from another place, the toponymic could be used, as in Giovanni Calabrese or di Genova, or the job, as Mastro Giovanni.

His descendants then would often maintain this addition to the Christian name, giving origin to the present surnames. There is a great variety of surnames in Italy also because of the many dialects, the variations such as Grasso/Grassi (singular and plural), and the presence of derivatives consisting of a final suffix, "smaller" as in surnames ending in -ello, -etto, -ino; "bigger" (-one) or "bad" (- accio, - azzo). The following are the main classes of surnames:

Surnames listed alphabetically

Surnames divided by place

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