The Most Common Italian Last Names

The Most Common Italian Last Names

Everyone shares a bit of history whenever they use their last name. It reveals information about their ancestry and can sometimes trace back over centuries of relationships. There are over 300,000 different surnames in Italy today. Hundreds, if not thousands of names have disappeared throughout the centuries, while new ones were created. Unlike many things in Italy, last names were not originated with the Romans.

The ancient Romans had a three part naming system using what is called the praenomen, nomen and cognomen. The first was the equivalent to a first name, while the nomen and cognomen were used to denote the family’s origin. The Romans were excellent record keepers and the naming system would be a modern genealogist’s dream, allowing a seamless method of tracing both sides of a family as far back as records existed. This method was abandoned with the ‘Fall of the Roman Empire,’ towards the end of the 5th century. It is therefore accurate to say that Italian surnames, as we know them, originated in the Middle Ages. In the early medieval period, people normally only had one name. There was little moving from place to place, so one name was all that was needed for most people. If a further distinction was needed, then the use of the “son or daughter of” could be used for clarification, so the father’s name was used to denote the family’s origin.

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In the 11th century, people were moving around more and with it, the need arose for surnames. The process to make up the names was based on a number of different features. It could be based on the three “P”s – paternity, provenance or profession; personality traits or physical characteristics. Examples of names based on paternity include Di Stefano, De Marco or De Simone. Provenance, based on where someone originated is illustrated by the names Ferraro, Romano and Napolitano. Occupation-based surnames include Fabbri (blacksmith) and Calzolai (shoe maker) and physical features give us names such names as Bianchi (white) and Biondi (blonde).

With the Council of Trento in 1563, the Church revived the Roman practice of record keeping to keep track of everyone who was born, married and died in each parish. Such records should have made it easier to track our family history, but it actually has led to some confusion, since both registry clerks and parish priests did not always transcribe exactly and differences in dialect only served to compound errors. So, the letter “a” sometimes became “o” while the letter “z” became an “s.” Perhaps the best example of this is found in two of the most common surnames in Italy – Rossi and Russo. Although both names are now found throughout the country, Rossi is more commonly found in central and northern Italy. Rossi is the plural of the Rosso (meaning red) and originally a nickname for a person with red hair or a reddish complexion. There are also many variations to the name including De Rossi, Del Rossi, Del Rosso, Della Rossa, Rossato, Rosselini, Rosselli, Rossello, Rossetti and Rossini.

Russo on the other hand, is found in southern Italy, especially in Sicily and while the origin of the name is based on the Italian word for red, as a surname, Russo historically denoted a family of nobility!

Other surnames have a more modern origin. The popular southern Italian surname Esposito (the sixth most popular Italian surname in the U.S.) was often given to children who were abandoned in front of hospitals in the once common ruote degli esposti, were unwanted babies who were “exhibited” (esposti) to the nuns who worked in the hospitals and would rescue them.

In some parts of Italy, most commonly in the region of Campania, you will find long and peculiar surnames such as Abbracciavento (hug the wind), Ammazzalamorte (kill death), Boccadifuoco (fire mouth) and even the Senzaquattini (without money). Of course, not everyone is happy with their surname, some of which are funny to those familiar with the language. For example, Benvenuta Vacca undoubtedly began as the surname for a farmer in Irpinia who proudly acquired a cow, but the translation as “welcome cow” seems to have lost some of its original enthusiastic quaintness.

Russo is by far the most common to be found in the U.S., with almost 50,000 people bearing the surname. Is your family name or that of your grandparents’ on the list? The chances are very good that it will be.

Rank      Surname              Number

1              Russo                 48,126

2              Marino               30,735

3              Bruno                 28,729

4              Romano             27,401

5              Rossi                  25,512

6              Esposito             22,651

7              Gallo                  21,149

8              Caruso               20,257

9              Rizzo                  18,445

10           Montalvo            18,085

11           Greco                  17,013

12           Giordano             16,036

13           DeLuca                15,928

14           Lombardo           15,368

15           Leone                  15,047

16           DeMarco             14,463

17           Lombardi            13,832

18           Ferrara                13,357

19           D'Amico              12,966

20           Martino              12,889

21           Vitale                  12,826

22           Messina              12,626

23           Amato                12,411

24           Barone                12,208

25           Longo                 12,122

26           Ferraro                12,090

27           Bello                    11,933

28           D'Angelo             11,587

29           Ricci                     11,543

30           Palumbo              11,122

31           Mancini                10,881

32           Manzo                 10,595

33           Conti                    10,284

34           Caputo                 10,141

35           Carbone               10,012

36           DeSantis               9,997

37           Catalano               9,671

38           Mancuso              9,659

39           Fiore                     9,483

40           Salerno                 9,346

41           Ruggiero              9,111

42           Aiello                   8,883

43           Fusco                   8,653

44           Santoro                8,587

45           Calabrese             8,537

46           Luciano                8,478

47           Coppola               8,439

48           Conte                   8,435

49           Piazza                   8,311

50           Pagano                 8,272

51           DeSimone             8,242

52           Bianco                   8,228

53           D'Agostino            8,224

54           Palermo                8,207

55           Parisi                     8,130

56           Testa                     8,123

57           Monaco                8,045

58           Battaglia               8,051

59           Volpe                    8,028

60           Bianchi                  7,928

61           Valenti                  7,840

62           DeAngelis             7,760

63           Ferrari                   7,759

64           Basile                    7,714

65           DeVito                  7,707

66           Toscano                7,613

67           Casanova              7,533

68           Rinaldi                  7,526

69           Fontana                7,525

70           Mauro                  7,483

71           Graziano              7,432

72           Fazio                    7,267

73           Pellegrino             7,237

74           Donato                 7,118

75           DeStefano            7,103

76           Simone                7,040

77           Napolitano          7,034

78           Sacco                  7,008

79           Palomino             6,963

80           Randazzo            6,944

81           Falcone               6,881

82           Ferro                    6,872

83           Evangelista           6,871

84           Vaccaro               6,672

85           Manzano             6,670

86           Valente                6,657

87           Guarino                6,632

88           Grande                 6,572

89           D'Amato               6,521

90           Marchese              6,483

91           Arena                    6,421

92           Morelli                  6,419

93           Ferrante                6,355

94           Viola                     6,353

95           Montelongo         6,308

96           Albanese              6,286

97           Grillo                     6,221

98           Tedesco                6,114

99           Perrone                 6,032

100         D'Onofrio              6,017

For comparison, here is a list of the top 20 most common surnames in Italy. Can you spot which are based on places, occupations or physical characteristics?

  1. Russo
  2. Ferrari
  3. Esposito
  4. Bianchi
  5. Alfonsi
  6. Romano
  7. Colombo
  8. Ricci
  9. Marino
  10. Greco
  11. Bruno
  12. Gallo
  13. Conti
  14. De Luca
  15. Mancini
  16. Costa
  17. Giordano
  18. Rizzo
  19. Lombardi
  20. Moretti

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