Italian Baby Names

Learn how parents choose to name their children in Italy

Italian mother and two children eating watermelon outdoors
Italian mother and two children eating watermelon outdoors. paolomartinezphotography

Part 1: Italian Baby Naming Traditions

If you have Italian roots (or just love the Italian culture), you may be thinking about giving your child an Italian name. If so, use this guide to learn how Italians name their children and the traditions that typically accompany a name. 

Every Tizio, Caio, and Sempronio

How many Italian names are there currently? At one point, a poll counted upwards of over 100,000 names at the national level.

The greater part of these, however, are extremely rare. Experts think there are approximately 17,000 Italian names that appear with regular frequency.

And Tizio, Caio, and Sempronio? That's how Italians refer to every Tom, Dick, and Harry!

You can find the top ten names for girls here, and the top ten for boys here

Italian Naming Conventions

Traditionally, Italian parents have chosen their children's names based on the name of a grandparent, choosing names from the father's side of the family first and then from the mother's side. According to Lynn Nelson, author of A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Italian Ancestors, there has been a strong custom in Italy that determines how children are named:

  • the first male is named after his paternal grandfather
  • the second male is named after his maternal grandfather
  • the first female is named after her paternal grandmother
  • the second female is named after her maternal grandmother

    Nelson also points out that: "The subsequent children could be named after the parents, a favorite aunt or uncle, a saint or a deceased relative."

    Part 2: Pronouncing Italian Names

    Britney Rossi, Brad Esposito
    The commonly given names of Italy today are all derived from names borne by saints recognized by the Roman Catholic Church.

    In the Middle Ages, there was a comparatively wide repertoire of Italian names, including an extensive group of Germanic names of Lombard origin (AdalbertoAdalgiso). Some of these have given rise to surnames, but most of them are no longer in use as given names. Vocabulary phrases intended to invoke a good omen (Benvenuto "welcome" and " Diotiguardi "God preserve you") were also formerly used as given names in Italy.

    Many different dialects are spoken in Italy, and the sense of regional identity remains strong. Regional influences, therefore, such as the veneration of local patron saints, are prominent. For example, Romolo is a typical name of the area in Rome; Brizio is more or less limited to parts of Umbria. Naming traditions, though, have succumbed to the popularity of entertainment figures, sport stars, and mass media personalities. Literary, religious, and historical names have fallen out of favor, replaced by the celebrity name del giorno.

    Pronouncing Italian Names
    If you know how to pronounce Italian words, then pronouncing Italian names should be semplice. Usually, Italian common names are stressed on the next–to–last syllable. In Southern Italy and Rome, first names often get cut where the stress falls—to be more precise, at the first stressed vowel.

    This is a typically (Southern) Italian usage. So if your name is Michele, a Roman could turn to you and say, "Ah mMiche', che t'è sartato in mente de fa' er gaide der Forum?"

    Speaking to a man named Paolo, a Neapolitan might say, "Uhìì, Pa'! Che bella facc' e mmerd' ca ttiene!" Note that the stressed syllable is PAO but the stress is on the first vowel in the diphthong. Similarly, Catari' (for Caterina), Pie', Ste' (for Stefano), Carle' (Carletto), Salvato', Carme', Ando' (for Antonio) and so forth.

    Name Days Are Twice the Fun

    As if one birthday celebration a year wasn't enough, Italians traditionally celebrate twice! People mark not only their birthdate, but their name day (or onomastico, in Italian). Children are often named for saints, typically for the saint on whose feast day they were born, but sometimes for a saint for whom the parents feel a special connection or for the patron saint of the town they live in.

    June 13, for example, is the feast day of St. Antonio, the patron saint of Padova.

    A name day is a reason to celebrate and often is as important as a birthday for many Italians. The celebration can include cake, sparkling white wine known as Asti Spumante, and small gifts. Each Italian baby name entry includes the onomastico or name day with a brief description of the historical figure or saint represented. Keep in mind that November 1 is La Festa d'Ognissanti (All Saint's Day), the day in which all saints not represented on the calendar are remembered. 

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    Hale, Cher. "Italian Baby Names." ThoughtCo, Sep. 12, 2016, thoughtco.com/italian-baby-names-4085840. Hale, Cher. (2016, September 12). Italian Baby Names. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/italian-baby-names-4085840 Hale, Cher. "Italian Baby Names." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/italian-baby-names-4085840 (accessed November 18, 2017).