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Italian surnames reflect the passion of love on Valentine’s Day.


Because many Italian Americans are inquisitive about how their surnames came to be, particularly their historic derivation, or a possible translation or meaning of their surname in English, we continue to run this column each month to provide this information. Many readers have commented on how much they enjoy this column and find it interesting. As some readers may recollect from reading earlier columns, it was the fall of Rome and the subsequent foreign invasions and occupations that gave way to modern Italian names. Today an Italian surname can be traced back not only to Old Latin, but to French, Spanish, Portuguese German, Greek, Arabic, and even biblical Hebrew. Examples are Sicilian surnames starting with “calta” from Arabic Qal`at, meaning fortress or Nazzari which derives from nazzareno, an inhabitant of Nazareth.

In this issue we are skipping our regular monthly surname alphabetical sequence to highlight a few common Italian surnames which relate to Valentine’s Day and terms of love and endearment, for which Italians are well known.    

AMATO – This surname is from the Latin amatus, meaning loved by God. It ranks among the most common of Italian surnames and is registered in all 20 regions, most heavily in Sicily and least common in the Aosta Valley.  Variations: AMATA, AMATUCCI, AMATULLI.

AMORETTI – One possible derivation is from the nickname given at times to children born out of wedlock: child of love. This surname is found in 16 of Italy’s 20 regions, mostly in Liguria and least in Sardinia. Variations: AMORELLI, AMORESE, AMORI.

AMOROSO – This word as most might know in English translates to the adjective “loving” or as a noun beau or sweetheart.  It can also translate to amorous, though in Italian this meaning is mildly erotic. However, before people with this surname get to thinking they descend from a line of “Casanovas,” the probability is more likely that they had ancestors who were simply known for their acts of loving kindness.

ANELLO – In English this translates to “ring.” The origin of this as a surname is clear, which accounts for the fact that it is not among the most common of surnames.  At best the name is connected to the jewelry trade. It is most found in Sicily and least found in the Marche region.

CARO – In English this translates to “dear.” Italian letters as English letters always start out with “caro.” As a surname, it is not common.  Once again Sicily is where it is most found and least found on the other famous Italian island of Sardinia.

D’AMORE – This Italian surname is fairly common throughout Italy. It translates to “of love.” Ancestors of these present-day families were probably known to be born to parents that demonstrated strong love and affection toward each other, hence D’Amore, out of love. It is most heard in the Campania region and least heard in the region of Emilia-Romagna.

DOLCI – This surname comes from the Italian word for sweet “dolce.” In the form”dolci,” it means sweets. Does this mean that past relatives had sweet personalities? Not necessarily.  The ancestors of these present-day families were probably in the candy or some sort of dessert business.  The highest number of Dolci families is recorded in the Lazio region, the lowest number is recorded in the neighboring Umbria region.

INNAMORATA – For most this word brings to mind a song title rather than an Italian surname   In fact “Innamorata” was a song written in 1955. It was written for the 1955 Martin and Lewis film, “Artists and Models.” In Italian, the word innamorata means “to be in love.” The biggest selling recording of the song was sung by Dean Martin in the same year. On the Cash Box magazine Best-Selling Records chart, which combined all versions of the song, it reached position No. 17. As an Italian surname it doesn’t rank anywhere close to the recognition or popularity of the song title. There is little documentation on the evolution of Innamorata as a surname and this is evident by the fact that there are only two regions in Italy that have a very small number of families registered with this surname, Campania and Friuli Venezia-Giulia. 

VALENTINO – Finally we come to the surname that shares its name with the “holiday for lovers.”  Of the surnames that we can associate with this day, none is as widespread as the surname Valentino. It is a surname registered in all 20 regions. In fact, who hasn’t heard of the 20th Century silver screen’s best known actor/lover Rudolph Valentino?  It is found most frequently in Campania and least noted in Val D’Aosta. Its evolution into a surname is attributed to ancestors that were devoted to Saint Valentine or to an ancestor born on Valentine’s Day.

Next month it’s back to our regular format as we start with the letters U and V.

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