Thursday, September 11, 2008

I Cognomi Italiani

My father -in-law always says, "If your last name ends in a vowel, you're o-kay"

I think this was his way of justifying his daughter marrying a Hawaiian (lucky for him, his last name ended in 'a') Nontheless, it is something that remains fairly true about "i cognomi italiani" (Italian last names).

But where did we get all these strong names from anyway? And why does it seem like we ran out, since everyone knows someone with the same last name these days? Well for Italians, last names were not fully established until the Renaissance, and are primarily descriptive. For instance, you were named for.....

1) Your family's origin: Genovese (from Genoa), Siciliani (from Sicily), Lombardi (from Lombardy)

2) Your ancestor's trade or occupation: Ferrari (blacksmith), Vaccaro (cowherd), Sarti (tailor), Pastore (shepherd), Marinaro (sailor), Pellegrino (pilgrim)

3) Your father's actual first name: Di Giovanni, Di Giacomo, Di Pietro, etc

or, 4) Your physical features: Biondi (blonde), Grasso (plump), Calvino (bald), Mancini (left-handed)

How interesting are all of those? Every Italian knows at least three people with one of the above last names, right? Well, even my own maiden name follows these rules. "Pusateri" actually means inkeeper. So somewhere down the line, our ancestors were working in hotels or inns. The funniest part about this is that almost everyone in my family is in the hotel business today. I guess there's some fates you just can't escape...

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