“That’s right, I come from a family of elves” – What your Italian surname says about you

Have you ever wondered what your Italian surname says about you?

You can find out a lot about your family’s history from your last name. Many people may not realize what their last name can tell them about their family, this is especially true for Italian-Americans

According to Italyworldclub.com, there are three common origins for surnames: occupation, family name and family origin. Check out the website to see if your last name is included.

Is your last name De Salvatore or Di Giovanni? The Di in these surnames signifies son of Salvatore, or son of Giovanni, equivalent to the English last name Johnson, or son of John.

Is your last name Di Napoli or Genovese? Many Italian last names signify the region or city in which the family originated. So if your last name is Di Napoli and you’ve always heard that your Italian ancestors came from Milan, this could mean that your family was originally Napolitano!

Is your last name Ferrari? That doesn’t mean that your family necessarily came from a line of high-speed carmakers, but blacksmiths instead. Ferrari is the English equivalent of the last name Smith.

I get my Italian heritage from my grandmother whose maiden name was Elfo. Elfo means elf in Italian, that’s right I come from a family of elves. This probably means that someone in my family was very short and had pointy ears. Last names that relate to physical appearance are also popular in Italy. For example, the last name Basso means that someone in the family lineage was short, while the last name D’Alto could mean that your family was very tall.

Another popular Italian last name, Esposito, was given by the Catholic Church to abandoned babies before the unification of Italy in 1861. This name comes from the Latin word expositus, which means to be put outside. After the unification of Italy, the Catholic Church decided to give orphans last names aligned with the other motives in Italy, like where they originated from or the name of the saint associated with their birthday.

If you can read Italian, check out the website Cognomi Italiani for a more complete list of Italian surname origins and find out what yours says about you!

Written by OSIA National Office Intern, Carol Cummings. Cummings is a senior at American University, majoring in print journalism, with a minor in Italian.


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