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Surnames and Their Origins – December 2020


This issue, in celebration of Christmas, we look at names and surnames that are either in some way connected to Christmas directly or in connotation. Historically many of the names that we will be examining are biblical in origin. In most instances, we will see that surnames often evolved from a proper name.

We begin with the most obvious. 

Christian or in Italian, Cristiano, which appears in Acts 11:26 first indicating a follower of Christ. Eventually as Christianity spread, the use of the word developed into a proper name which today gives us a number of derivatives as a proper name and as a surname.

Related proper names: Christine, Chris, Christopher.

Related Italian surnames: Di Cristoforo, Cristi, Cristaldo, Cristaldi.

David or in Italian, Davide. This name is most often associated with the Old Testament. However, scripture states that Jesus descended from the “House of David.” The word David means well-beloved, dear, obviously feelings that followers of Jesus hold strongly to the Messiah.

Related Italian surnames: Daviddi, Daviti, Davidi.

Emmanuel or in Italian, Emmanuele, actually is another word that Christians use to refer to Jesus. It’s one of few biblical words attributed simultaneously to Latin and Hebrew. In either language, it means God with us.It is a common first name in Italy.

Related Italian surnames: Emmanueli, D ’Emanuele, Manuello.

Epiphany or in Italian, Epifania, is practically unheard of as a proper name in the United States. However, in Italy it is sometimes given as a proper name. As a surname, it is more frequent.

Related Italian surnames: Epifanio, Epifana, Epifania, Epifanio.

Nazzaro or Nazzareno and their feminine forms are common proper names in Italy. An obvious name which translates to Nazarene is directly connected to Jesus, who was known as “Jesus of Nazareth” or in Italian “Gesù il Nazzareno.” The form Nazzari is the usual form when adopted as an Italian surname.

Natalie or in Italian, Natalia, derives a proper name from the Italian word for Christmas, Natale. In the word we see the English “natal.” Clearly indicating that Italians name the special day from the Latin “natalis,” referring to birth. As a proper name it is heard frequently here and in Italy.  If parents wish to name their son after the holiday, it actually is Natale. Diminutives are Natalino and Natalina.

Related Italian surnames:  Di Natale.

Joy or Italian, Gioia, is from Latin and means happiness. The relationship to Christmas is quite clear, appearing in song, greetings, and just a very joyous time of year.

Common biblical names in English, their origins and the Italian equivalent.

Joseph (Hebrew) – Gen. 30:24 – increase; addition. (Giuseppe)

Stephen (Greek) – Acts 6:5 – crown; crowned (Stefano)

Angela (Greek) – Gen. 16:7 – Angelic.  (Angela)

Anna (Greek, from Hebrew) – Luke 2:36 – gracious; (Anna)

Bethel (Hebrew) – Gen. 12:8 – the house of God. (Bettina)

Elizabeth (Hebrew) – Luke 1:5 – the oath, or fullness, of God. (Elizabetta)

Mary (Hebrew) – Matt. 1:16 – rebellion; sea of bitterness. (Maria)

Joanna (Hebrew) – Luke 8:3 – grace or gift of the Lord. (Giovanna)

Joy (Old French, Latin) – Heb. 1:9 – happiness. (Gioia)

Buon Natale a tutti!

You can research your surname on these two websites:

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