One of the reasons we talk a lot about Italian history and cultural is to keep our Italian heritage alive for our children and grandchildren. In addition to the cultural roots that we share with all Italian Americans, we also have our unique family stories. One interesting clue to our family history can be found in our last names. Researching your Italian surname can be a fascinating journey into the lives of your ancestors.
Just like English names such as Carpenter, Taylor, and Baker, Italian surnames can reveal the family’s occupation. For example, Ferraro/Ferrari means “blacksmith” and comes from the Italian word for “iron”. It’s equivalent to Smith in English and is just as common. The last name Farina means “flour”, a good name for a baker or a wheat farmer. My mom was a Spadaro (from the Italian word for sword), so there was probably a soldier in her family.
Other surnames denote a special family characteristic, such as Biondi for blondes and Bruno for brunettes, Rizzo for curly hair, and Russo for redheads, even Felice for a happy disposition. The famous Corleones have the heart (Cor) of a lion (Leone) and the Gallos have the proud look of a rooster.
There are also surnames based on the geographic origin of the family. The Milanos are from Milan, the Pisanos from Pisa, and the Romanos from Rome. Even smaller towns have created last names for their citizens. For example, Mike Patti’s family must have come from Patti, Sicily and the Savocas in my family are from Savoca, Sicily. Gina’s mom and my grandmother are Grecos. Sicily used to belong to Greece, which explains why there are so many Grecos in Sicily and why I’m just a little bit Greek.
Other geographic names describe an area instead of a town on the map. For example, the Boscos are from the forest and the Marinos live by the sea. The Aiellos live in a field outside the city, but the Incittis live right downtown.
It’s fun to look up the meaning of your family name and see what it means. Some websites will even research your name for a fee and send you a written history and a coat of arms. Better yet, ask the younger members of your family to do the research and let them discover their Italian heritage. Keep the story of your family name alive by passing it on to the next generation.
Submitted by Charlene Pardo
OSDIA CULTURAL NOTE for July and August 2023
What do July and August have in common for Italian Americans? They are both named after famous Romans!
July is named for Julius Caesar, who was killed in 44 BC by his so-called “friends” in the Roman Senate. August was named in honor of his nephew, Augustus Caesar, who became the first Roman Emperor. July and August are two months named after real historical figures from our Italian heritage.
The other months also have interesting stories to tell:
January starts the year with a tribute to Janus, the gatekeeper. He was a Roman god with two faces, one facing the past and one looking to the future, something a lot of us do every New Year.
February honors Februa, a Roman purification ceremony held every February 15th.
March is named after Mars, the god of war. In Ancient Rome, there were several festivals in March to celebrate Mars and to get his blessing on the next military campaign. Apparently, the Roman army thought January and February were terrible months to start a war. Although Romans were eager to conquer the world, they waited until March when the weather was nicer and food was more plentiful than in winter.
April is the month all the flowers start to bloom. The name of this month comes from the Latin root of the Italian word “aprire”, which means “to open”.
May is named after Maia, an earth goddess who protected the tender new plants and flowers of spring.
June honors Juno, the wife of the main Roman god, Jupiter. Juno is the goddess of marriage and childbirth, which is how June weddings became a popular tradition.
July and August complete the summer months before we come to September, October, November, and December, which are named after the numbers seven, eight, nine, and ten, respectively. But wait! These are actually the ninth, tenth, eleventh,and twelfth months of the modern year. What happened? The ancient Roman calendar actually started in March with the beginning of spring. If March is the first month, then September, October, November, and December take their rightful numerical place in the Roman calendar. Later, the Gregorian calendar put January and February at the beginning of our year and the numbered months lost their place in line.
By Charlene Pardo
– Italy occupies 0.5% of the Earth, and 0.83% of humanity lives there.
– Bio-climate conditions are unique in the world, allowing the peninsula to be the FIRST nation in the world for biodiversity:
7.000 plant differences, Brazil follows with 3.000;
58,000 species of animals, follows China with 20,000;
1,800 spontaneous grape vines, followed by France with 200;
997 types of apples, there are 1,227 worldwide;
140 varieties of grain, followed by the USA with 6;
– Italy owns 70% of its artistic and human heritage, the remaining 30% is scattered all over the rest of the planet.
We are basically in the Garden of Eden, but few Italians appreciate and respect it as such.
OSDIA CULTURAL NOTE FOR MAY 2023
In Italy, spring weather invites people outside for picnics,hiking and biking. The most famous Italian bike race is the Giro d’Italia that takes place for three weeks in May. The route changes every year, so some roads may be closed or redirected to allow the cyclists a non-stop ride. The changing route also allows Italians in smaller towns to witness a national sports event without leaving home.
It’s fun to watch the cyclists speed by, but there are always huge crowds, so bring your lunch and get comfortable, because once it starts, it’s almost impossible to get out of town!
The race began in 1909 and was organized by a sports newspaper called La Gazzetta, which was (and still is) printed on pink paper. La Gazzetta no longer hosts the race, but the leading cyclist for each day wears a pink jersey so you can spot him more easily. There are daily winners, overall winners and winners for specific events, so every cyclist has a chance to win a prize.
If you are not a fan of speed and endurance racing, you should go to the town of Gubbio in Umbria. Here the Race of the Candles (La Corsa dei Ceri) takes place in Mayvwith the same fervor as the Giro d’Italia, but without any pressure to come in first.
Since the 12th century, the residents of Gubbio have celebrated their beloved medieval bishop, St Ubaldo, with a procession of enormous 22 foot candles, (now made of wood) that have a large statue on top. One candle is for St Ubaldo, patron of stone masons, another one is for St Giorgio, protector of merchants, and the third is for St Antonio, patron saint of the farmers. It takes a team of at least six men to carry the candles on a platform through the town and to the Basilica of St Ubaldo. Each team wears a distinctly colored shirt so the townspeople can identify them during the “race”.
Unlike any other race in the world, the first team to reach the church is not necessarily the winner. St Ubaldo always arrives first because it’s his church and his feast day. The real winner is determined by the townspeople who have been paying very close attention to the race. They base their judgement on the finesse and skill of the teams in balancing the candles and working well together, not on their speed. So we have a race to fit every taste during the month of May in Italy and there’s something to appreciate about both events.
Be sure to wish all the moms in your life a Happy Mother’s Day on May 14 and let’s honor the moms we miss by carrying on their family traditions.
Submitted by Charlene Pardo
OSDIA Cultural Note for April 2023
Coming to America
As Italian Americans, all of us have an immigration story to tell. Some details we may share in common, such as the agonizing decisions to leave friends and family in Italy and try for a better life in America or the heartbreaking conditions famine, war, or unemployment that forced our families to leave Italy in the first place. Nevertheless, each of our stories is unique to our family and deserves to be told. One such story comes from the family of our lodge brother, Bill Rose.
In June of 1945, the 99th Field Artillery Battalion of the US Army arrived at little town near Mantova in Northern Italy. A young American soldier named Albert Rose from Rockham, South Dakota met a young Italian war widow named Eva and her two-year-old daughter, Gabriella. A relationship developed between Albert and Eva and they were married on June 17, 1946.
At that time, it was relatively easy to bring an Italian wife back to the United States with her American husband, so Eva was able to get her immigration papers. Bringing Eva’s now three-year-old daughter Gabriella back to the US was a lot more complicated, so the parents were forced to leave little Gabriella in Italy with her grandmother until they could arrange for her immigration.
Albert and Eva moved back to Rockham, South Dakota and then began the nightmare of red tape involved in bringing Gabriella to America. They enlisted the aid of their state senator, A.L. Coleman, as well as Karl Mundt, the US senator from South Dakota. The Rose family persisted and even got the Red Cross involved in Gabriella’s case. They were desperate to get their little girl home.
Finally, after seven years, Gabriella (who was now ten years old) crossed the ocean on a steamship accompanied by an Italian speaking chaperone from the Red Cross. After arriving in New York harbor, Gabriella spent a few nights with an Italian family while arrangements were made to fly her with a second chaperone to Chicago and then to South Dakota. A storm in Chicago prevented further air travel, so she was put on a train to South Dakota with her third chaperone. After fourteen hours on a train, Gabriella finally ran into the loving arms of her mother and stepfather. In the seven intervening years, Albert and Eva had two more children whom Gabriella now met for the first time, Dennis Rose and our lodge brother, Bill Rose.
The local newspaper noted that there were three lessons Gabriella learned from her unusual journey to America:
1.People in America are kind-hearted.
2.The Red Cross is considerate and foresighted.
3.There are a lot of people in America who speak Italian!
If any of you would like to share your family’s history with our lodge, please contact Charlene. We would love to hear your story.
Written by Charlene Pardo
Information supplied by Bill Rose