If your ancestors came from Italy, learning more about Italian surnames can help give you new insight into your family tree. People first began to use Italian last names in the 1400s.
Origins of Italian Surnames
Italian last names come from the same sources as surnames for other nationalities.
- Occupational last names are very common in Italy. Some examples of these types of surnames include Zappa for farmer, Forni for baker, or Martelli for carpenter.
- Toponymic names indicate the region where the family originally lived. Some are in honor of a specific geographic region, such as Napolitano or Di Geniva, while others are a local area, such as Fontana.
- Nicknames were sometimes used to inspire Italian last names if the person had a very memorable feature, characteristic, or personality trait. For example, Poccoli is a last name that indicates a person of short stature.
- Patronymic last names have prefixes such as von, van, de, or di to indicate a common paternal ancestor.
Unique Features of Italian Last Names
One important feature of Italian last names is that they typically end with a vowel sound. It is also interesting to note that many Italian families have unusually long surnames. Some examples of very long surnames include the following:
- Di Francescantonio
Common Italian Last Names
The most common Italian surnames are as follows:
- Bianchi – a person with white hair or a very light complexion
- Bruno – a person with brown hair or skin
- Colombo – an occupational surname meaning dove keeper
- Conti – an occupational surname to indicate a person who worked for a count or was himself a count
- Costa – a surname to indicate someone who either lives or works near the coast
- De Luca – a patronymic surname indicating the son of Luca
- Esposito – a last name that was commonly given to Italian children who were abandoned by their birth parents
- Gallo – someone with a cocky or vain attitude
- Giordano - an Italian form of the name Jordan, with root in "Yarden" (the Hebrew name of the Jordan river)
- Greco – someone who originated from Greece
- Lombardi - a surname to indicate someone from the Lombardy region in Italy
- Mancini – a left-handed person
- Marino – a surname to indicate someone who either lives or works near the sea
- Moretti – someone coming from Mauritania in northern Africa or a dark skinned person
- Ricci – a person with curly hair
- Rizzo - a variant of Ricci, also meaning a person with curly hair
- Romano – someone from Rome, Italy
- Rossi – a red haired person or a person with a ruddy complexion
- Russo – a variant of Rossi, also meaning a red haired person or a person with a ruddy complexion
- Ferrari – an occupational surname meaning blacksmith
Alternate Spellings of Surnames
When conducting genealogy research, remember that surname spellings often changed over time. When most of the population was illiterate, surnames were often inadvertently changed in official documents. Later, people made changes when they moved to new areas and wanted to better fit in with their neighbors.
For example, the surname Ponte means bridge and was used to indicate a family that lived near a bridge or come from a place called Ponte. Today, this surname is accepted to have a list of variations that includes the following:
- Da Pont
Adamo is an Italian patronymic surname derived from the Hebrew word for man. It has several accepted variations:
Additional Italian Genealogy Resources
Italian surnames have a long history. If you are interested in learning more about your Italian ancestors, you may want to invest in a copy of Our Italian Surnames by Joseph Guerin Fucilla. This genealogy guide provides information on more than 7,500 different Italian last names. In addition, House of Names offers a chance to purchase surname histories and a poster with your family’s coat of arms.