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Italian Naming Traditions


Italian Naming Traditions
This is the traditional pattern for naming children in Italy:
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The first son is named after the father's father.
The second son is named after the mother's father.
The first daughter is named after the father's mother.
The second daughter is named after the mother's mother.
This was custom and tradition not law so it varied. Do not wrongly assume that this will be "fact" when searching for your ancestors. However most couples if they knew who their parents were and were on good terms with them, stuck to this tradition especially in Southern Italy. People are individuals so you will find couples who were very respectful of their Italian Tradition yet still felt compelled to exercise their own free will. Therefore, you will find families that followed no specific pattern in naming their children, sometimes naming the children after the patron saint of the day, patron saint of the town or what they felt right to do at the time.

There are a few standard variations you will encounter in doing Italian Genealogy Name Research. If the first born or second born child (one given the paternal or maternal grandparent's name) died as an infant or young child, the name of the deceased baby or child was often given to the next newborn. Another naming variation you will find is that if the first born is a girl, some parents, wanting to show respect and love for the paternal grandfather (and also for good luck) gave the girl a female variation of her paternal grandfather's name such as:
Angela for Angelo,
Antonia / Antonio,
Benedetta / Benedetto,
Carla / Carlo,
Cristiana / Cristiano,
Donata / Donato,
Enrica / Enrico,
Francesca / Francesco,
Giuseppa / Giuseppe,
Lorenza / Lorenzo,
Luigia / Luigio,
Michelina / Michelino,
Ottavia / Ottavio
Paola / Paolo,
Raffaella / Raffaello,
Vincenza / Vincenzo.
and more...

Other children are frequently named for Patron Saints or relatives. Almost all Italian Catholic children have a saint's name in their personal litany of given names; which segues into another point. Many children in Italy are given more than one middle name. I am not referring to the "confirmation name" given later in life. Some children are given many names at birth to make all the relatives and saints happy. My grandmother's full birth name was 'Maria Donata Antonia Caggiano' and when I first sent for her birth and marriage records from Italy they sent me documents on the wrong person as there was another girl born around the same time with the same first 2 names and surname (Maria Donata Caggiano) as my grandmother. When I sent for the records I did not know my nonna had a third name so I had to send another request in order to obtain my grandmother's birth certificate.

As you can imagine giving the paternal grandfather's name to all the first born sons can be very confusing in families where there are 2, 3 or more sons becoming father's. To solve the confusion Italians make great use of the nickname and in the "old days" most people had them. The tradition is still practiced in many places especially in the smaller towns where traditions have not been contaminated. Nicknames are derived from a personal characteristic of the individual and the person is known by his or her nickname throughout life. In addition, entire families have nicknames too but that is another story. [By Paula Nigro - 2003]

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