Etymology of Italian Surnames
Surnames Listed Alphabetically
Categories of Surnames
- patronymics (=from the name of a parent)
- toponymics (=from the name of a place)
- occupational (=from a job or occupation)
- nicknames (=from some physical or other feature)
- foundlings (=for children who were not recognized by a parent or abandoned)
- Local area: the surname was associated to a place well known to the community, as for example Fontana, Della Valle, Della Piana, La Porta, Montagna, Montanari, Monti (from the fountain, the valley, the plain, the town gate, the mountains)
- Geographical origin: this was applied as a consequence of the migrations of people; the place had to be known to the community that applied the toponimic, therefore if the individual came from villages nearby, the name of the village was used; if he came from a more remote city, region or country, a more general name was used, like Milani, di Genova, Napolitano, Pugliese, Albanese.
These surnames are common also in other languages, as can be seen from the examples below.
- Fabbri, Ferrari, Ferri ("fabbro ferraio") corresponding to Smith, Schmidt
- Sarti ("sarto") corresponding to Schneider, Snyder, Taylor.
- Molinari, Monari ("mugnaio") corresponding to Miller, Müller.
- Calzolari, Calligari, Scarparo (calzolaio, scarparo), corresponding to Schuhmacher, Cobbler.
- the color or form of the hair (some of the most common surnames have this origin) as in Rossi, Morelli, Ricci
- body size, like Corti and Bassi (Short), Piccoli (small), Grossi (big), Testa (head);
- more creatively, the (often ironical) nickname was made with a verb and an object indicating an action typical of the individual as in Pappalardo (that who eats lard);
- other surnames may have come from the personality or moral features, as Selvaggi (Savage) or Allegretti (happy people).
- names of animals could serve to the same purpose of a character or physical feature, so there were Mosca (a fly, someone small or annoying), Cavallo (someone big, noisy or with large front teeth), Gatto (cat), Grillo (cricket), Lepore (hare), Volpe (fox).
- a nickname may have come also from some feature in the coatsofarm of the family, like De Argento (silver), Mazzei (club), D'Arco (bow), Tremonti (three mountains that often appear in coat of arms).
Surnames of Foundlings or Well-Wishing
In the late 19th century the custom was introduced to give to foundlings surnames of non-residents, of flowers, months, of famous people, or surnames invented on the spot.