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Surnames and Their Meanings


This month’s surname feature is not in the traditional format, but is instead a list of surnames that are relative to the theme of love and Valentine’s Day.

As expressed in previous columns, today many Italian Americans are inquisitive of how their surnames came to be, particularly their historic derivation and at least a loose translation or meaning in English. It all starts with 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. An example is Sicilian surnames starting with “calta” from Arabic Qal`at, meaning fortress, or Nazzari, which derives from nazzareno, an inhabitant of Nazareth.

We selected a few common Italian surnames that relate to Valentine’s Day and terms of love and endearment, for which Italians are well known. 

AMOROSO — This word as most might know in English translates to the adjective “loving” or as a noun beau or sweetheart. It of course also can 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 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. In 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. Sicily is where it is most found. It is found least 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 Latium 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” is a song written in 1955. It was written for the 1955 Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis film “Artists and Models.” In Italian, the word innamorata means “my 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 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 are as widespread as the surname Valentino. It is a surname owned by families in all twenty regions. It is most frequent in Campania and least heard in Val D’Aosta. Its evolution into a surname is attributed to ancestors that were devoted to St. Valentine or to an ancestor born on Valentine’s Day.

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