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