A great variety of Italian surnames
According to Professor Enzo Caffarelli, at the beginning of the 21st century, there were around 350.000 surnames in Italy.
Italian surnames are more numerous than surnames originated in other European countries. The reasons are found in society’s history, traditions, and the Italian language and dialects.
This onomastic richness is attributed to:
- The delay in the process of standardization of surnames, due to the late and slow diffusion of the Italian national language. In Italy, there was not a established national language until the last decades of the 19th century, contrary to what happened with the French or German language.
- The standardization of local forms of surnames that appeared due to the linguistic fragmentation (dialects).
- The Italian practice of shortening names by dropping off syllables. This was also typical during the medieval ages, giving origin to surnames such as Ducci, Lotti, Neri, Ventura, Giunti, Corsi, Salvi, which are a lot more common than those that derive from names like Bernardo (or other names ending in -do), Angelotto, Raineri, Bonaventura, Bonagiunta, Bonaccorso, Diotisalvi, etc.
- The medieval tradition to differentiate members of the same family with suffixes. The wide variety of suffixes in the italian language and dialects allowed the creation of a number of variants with the suffixes:– ino, -etto, -ello, -one, -uccio, -ozzo, etc.
- In turn, abbreviations were often enlarged with one or more suffixes, becaming longer and unrecognisable. Only a studious of surnames could consider that Guzzinati could derive from Ugo, Federigo or Arrigo; that Pucciarelli derives from Filippo or Jacopo; that Giottini derives from Ambrogio, and that Bossettini derives from Jacobo.
For this reason, from Giovanni / Gianni, the medieval name par excellence and the most extended in Italy as well as in Europe, derive thousands of different surnames; from Giovannetti to Zanella, from Di Giovanni to Vannucci, from Iannone to Zandegiacomo, from Nanni to De Zan, from Bongiovanni to Giangrande, and so on and so forth.
This variety of surnames eased the development of some tools such as surname maps.