What Can I Learn about My Italian Last Name?

August 13, 2018  - by 

Do you think you have an Italian surname? It ends in an “o,” “e,” “a,” or “i,” so it must be Italian, right?

Odds are it could be, but to be sure, you can explore in several places to learn more about your name.

Italians didn’t generally use surnames until the Italian population started to grow and more families needed to be distinguished one from another. So beginning in the 15th century, Italians in the upper classes started to add a surname. By the time of the Council of Trent (1545–1563), using a surname was a common practice and further solidified by that council when they emphasized the need to record baptisms, marriages, and burials.

Origins of Italian Last Names

Italian surnames generally come in a few main categories as far as their origins are concerned.

    Where did my Italian last name come from?
  • Patronymics (The surname comes from an ancestor’s first name)—d’Alberto, d’Angelo, d’Alessi
  • Geographical areas—Lombardo, Di Genova, Napolitano
  • Descriptives or Nicknames—Franco, Betto, Zello, Gambino
  • Occupations—Ferraro, Carpenteri, Muratori

Some names even come from animals, insects, birds, objects, anatomy, and so on.

Some surnames, such as Esposito, Innocenti, and Incogniti, can even be used to identify a family who had an abandoned child somewhere in their family.

Use these excellent resources to learn more about the origins of your own Italian surname and how first names are passed down to future generations.

Italian Emigration and Surname Changes

If you have Italian immigrants among your ancestors, their names could have been changed as they assimilated into their new home country.

A common surname such as Russo could have become anglicized or changed to become Russe, Russa, Russell, or even Russ. A surname could also have been translated into English directly from Italian. Examples include Piccolo becoming Little, Chiesa being changed to Church, and Bianco changing to White.

What does my Italian last name mean? Italian last name meanings and origins

Watch for these changes on documents in the countries where your Italian ancestors immigrated to. If you are still exploring records, try to locate your ancestor on a passenger list such as those from the United States Ellis Island Immigration Station. The way your ancestor’s name was spelled on the passenger list is most likely the way the name would have been spelled in Italian records. The lists were often filled out at the port of embarkation before the ship left Italy.

Tracking down original birth records for your ancestors, as well as other Italian records such as marriages, christenings, deaths, and so on, can give you clues about how your surname has changed over time. If you need help getting started with your Italian genealogy, FamilySearch has great Italy research resources.

Common Italian Last Names and Surname Distribution Maps

Top 10 Italian Surnames

Most Requested

Most Common in Italy

1. Rossi 6. Russo 1. Rossi 6. Romano
2. Berlusconi 7. Colombo 2. Russo 7. Colombo
3. Ferrari 8. Brambilla 3. Ferrari 8. Ricci
4. Puddu 9. Greco 4. Esposito 9. Marino
5. Esposito 10. Ricci 5. Bianchi 10. Greco

Understanding the meaning and origin of your surname can help you not only distinguish between families of the same name, but in Italy it could be a key to locating an exact place of origin for your ancestors. Why? Simply put, because certain surnames exist only in certain localities in Italy or are more commonplace to specific regions of the country.

Do I have an Italian last name?

You can explore several websites that show on maps or in a tabular form where a surname is most prevalent in Italy. These websites often use modern phone directories and historical records to give a good representation of where a surname exists in Italy. This information can be extremely useful to narrow down where your family may have come from, especially with uncommon surnames.

Let’s face it, these searches are also a lot of fun!

This website maps your Italian surname. On the home page, look for the box that says cerca un cognome. Type your surname into the box, and then click Trova. You will see how many comuni, or towns, your surname exists in.

The Italian Surnames site is a little different. This site allows you to enter a name region by region in Italy to discover how prevalent your name might be in specific towns. As an example, I put the surname Accetta in the box for “Sicilia” and find a list of towns with the estimated number of people in a town with that surname. When you click on the name of a town, it also gives you the ten most common surnames in that town. You can also search for the most common surnames by town.

The Cognomix website is sort of a combination of the two—it not only maps the surname for you, but also tells you an estimated number of people or families in a town with the surname, ultimately drilling down from region to province and then to town on a colorful map.

Is my last name Italian?

If you just want to see a good list of Italian surnames, there are also several good sources online.

So, give it a try—you might be surprised by what you find.

Exploring your surname can be a lot of fun, but ultimately, I hope it leads you to discovering more about your ancestors’ lives and where they lived. FamilySearch has undertaken a massive project to digitize and index civil registration records throughout Italy. Once you have located where your ancestors lived—odds are you will find them in this collection of Italy records now available online!

 


Want to learn more about your Italian roots? Visit “Your Italian Heritage” on the FamilySearch blog.

Italian Heritage

An overview of your Italian heritage and genealogy research

Italian heritage and genealogy

Italy Emigration

A history of Italian immigrants and immigration records

How to research your Italian genealogy

Italian Last Names

Common Italian last names and their origins and meanings

Learn about your Italian last name and its meaning

Italian Dual Citizenship

Italian heritage and dual citizenship laws

Italian heritage and dual citizenship

Italian Records

How to find and use Italian genealogy records

Italian heritage and genealogy records research

 

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Comments

  1. I do not have an Italian heritage but the article was well written. I always enjoy learning something new about other countries in some ways we do things the same way so we’re really not that different,

  2. Great article. I know of Joel. My friend who taught me all I know about Italian genealogy is a friend of Joel. Lots of resources here.

  3. Looking for information on Antonio tomeo born 1869, avellino italy. Married to a Teresa Pescatore born 1873 , avellino italy

    1. If you go to the website: http://www.gens.info/italia/#.XNCU8I5KhPY both of those names seem to be prevalent in the Puglia area (Bungaro and Cianciotti). If you use this website: http://italia.indettaglio.it/eng/cognomi/cognomi.html and search for those names in “Apulia” — both names seem to be located in the province of Bari. If you are looking for your town of origin — you would of course want to substantiate that with records from the country they immigrated to and records in Italy. Is that what you were looking for?