Italian Family Names

Family tree and family records.

Italian family names are one of the most interesting surnames to study. Italian surnames can give important clues about the family's heritage.

Origin of Italian Family Names

Italian family names, or surnames, often gave reference to an ancestor's occupation, his first given name, his description, or where the family lived. This assignation of a family name could have happened in Italy or when the family immigrated to another country. At the time of immigration, officials sometimes assigned a surname to a family if their original surname was difficult to pronounce. Additionally, if the immigrant was not able to communicate with the authorities due to language barriers, officials could have assigned a new surname, possibly based on his city of origin in Italy, a special talent, or an occupation.


A patronym is a name based on your paternity. Your paternity is your father, grandfather, or another distant male relative. A surname that is a patronym is usually based on the father's given name or surname. A suffix or a prefix will be attached to the fathers name. Italian names may have the following prefix or suffix if they are based on paternity:

  • Van
  • Von
  • Di
  • De
  • D'

The following are examples of patronymic Italian surnames:

  • D'Agostino -of the Agostino family
  • De Carolis-son of Caroli
  • De Contanzi-son of Contanzi
  • Di Base-of the Base family
  • Di Bernardo -son of Bernardo

Occupational Names

It was common for an Italian man to take on a surname so people in the community would know his job or occupation. After years of neighbors referring to him as the baker, the artisan, the carpenter, or the farmer, it soon became his part of his name. It was also common to add a letter at the end of the name such as, "i," "o," or "a" so that people would know it was his name and not just an occupation. Examples of Italian surnames based on occupation are as follows:

  • Contadino-farmer
  • Forni-baker
  • Tenaglia-carpenter
  • Fumagalli-smoke the chickens

Toponymic Names

Toponymic names are based on the location in Italy where the family originated. Sometimes the location was a village, a city, or a larger region of Italy. For example, the following toponymic Italian surname are based on specific locations in a city.:

  • Fontana-lives by the fountain
  • Della Valle-from the valley
  • La Porta-the door
  • Montagna-from the mountain

Other Italian family names indicate a larger region in Italy, such as the following:

  • Romano -the family originated in Rome
  • Napolitano-Naples
  • Milani-from Milan
  • Di Genova-from Genova

Names Based on Description

Some Italian families acquired their surname based on a description of the father or the family as a whole. This description may have referred to their father's talent or some other unique feature about him. These names might have been nicknames at first, but they became the family name after years of use. Consider the following examples:

  • Pappalardo-eats lard
  • Corti-size
  • Mosca-short in stature or annoying in personality
  • Cavallo-a large noisy person
  • Selvaggio-wild or primitive
  • Allegretti-fast or quick
  • Rossi-red hair
  • Mezzanotte-midnight
  • Cantare-sings
  • Pelagatti-peels the skin
  • Malinconico-melancholy
  • Caporaso-shaved head
  • Denaro-money
  • Accusato-accused
  • Bonanno-good year

Italian Surname Societies and Databases

If you are Italian or looking for an Italian ancestor, you may want to become active in an Italian name society or peruse their Italian name databases. Following is a list of helpful Italian name sites:

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Italian Family Names