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Surnames and Their Origins – December 2023


This month our surnames feature will focus directly and indirectly on historical and biblical ties to the Christmas season. With a bit of a twist we will note how surnames evolved from proper names in this context with surnames deriving from proper names of an ancestor or saint or a biblical passage. For example, the surname Giannino comes from San Giovanni, which very possibly indicates that an ancestor of the present-day Giannino families could have been a devotee of San Giovanni or St. John.

The first name is that most close to Christmas or to Jesus Christ.

Christian or in Italian Cristiano 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 then became used as a surname. Related proper names: CHRISTINE, CHRIS, CHRISTOPHER. Related Italian surnames: DI CRISTOFORO, CRISTI, CRISTALDO, CRISTALDI.

David or in Italian Davide 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 were closely bonded 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 is 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 occasionally still given as a proper name. As a surname, it is more frequent. Related Italian surnames: EPIFANIO, EPIFANIA, EPIFANA.

Nazzaro or Nazzareno and their feminine forms are common proper names in Italy. An obvious name which translates to Nazarene and 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 as a proper name from the Italian word for Christmas, Natale. In the word we see the English “natal.” This clearly indicates 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 surname:  Di Natale.

Joy (Old French, Latin) appears in Hebrews 1:9 meaning happiness. The relationship to Christmas is quite clear appearing in song, greetings, and the joyous festivities that take place during this time of year.

Other 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) 

Buon Natale a tutti!

Next month this feature returns to surnames starting with the letter T.

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