Anglicization of Italian last names (II)

Anglicization of Italian last names (II)

There are thousands of anglicized Italian surnames in the United States. Why was my ancestor’s name changed during immigration?

The Effect of Immigration on Surnames

Immigrants changed their names by accident or by design. Other languages had letter combinations not found in English, or letters pronounced as other letters in the English language.

According to Fucilla’s analysis 1, one of the ways Italian surnames were anglicized was through loss of the final vowel.

Dropping of final vowels

At times, in addition to the translation, this type take on an s in imitation of the possessive ending so common in English and German patronymics:

  • Bacigalupo –> Bacigalup
  • Dirienzi –> Dirienz
  • De Biasi –> De Bias
  • De Gustanzi –> De Gustanz
  • Occhigrossi –> Occhigross
  • and hundreds of others

This is in accordance with one of the most characteristic word features of the English language, the consonantal ending. In this case the English themselves long ago set up models by their treatment of the names of the great Italian cities — Milan, Turin, Venice, the names of great Italian writers, Petrarch, Machiavel, Guicciardin, and names which were long ago transplanted on English soil, such as Jessup and Tolliver which derive from Giuseppe and Tagliaferro.

Some names with consonantal endings tend to follow the model furnished by a group of English names in -ell, -el, such as Bartell, Bartel, Pennell, Purcell, Terrell, Terrel.

  • Battistelli –> Battistell
  • Bertelli –> Bertell
  • Capparell –> Capparelli
  • Lucarel –> Lucarelli
  • Borrelli –> Borrell

The addition of a consonant to a name ending in a vowel is extremely rare; Fucilla found it in only three instances:

  • Grecol –> Greco
  • Matrangol –> Matrango
  • Garofolow –> Garofolo

Something of a freak is Johngrass, the first part of which is a translation and the second drops its final vowel. Not so long ago this cognomen was Giangrasso.

  1. The Anglicization of Italian Surnames in the United States. Joseph G. Fucilla. American Speech Vol. 18, No. 1 (Feb., 1943), pp. 26-32 (7 pages)