Italian surnames end with –i?
Why so many Italian surnames end with –i?
The matter of the surnames ending with –i has been quite debated among linguists, given its theoretic interest, as it helps demonstrate that a family group could have been named by a plural word.
In the beginnings, most times surnames were an official and artificial tag that the carrier only used when it was mandatory (for example, notarial acts), especially on the countryside; the rest of the time people used completely different names. Eventually, those official tags remained and ended up prevailing on written documents.
During the Middle Ages, notary publics wrote the documents in latin rather than the language spoken by the majority of the population; therefore, their notations of individual names and surnames had to be a “meeting point” between the vulgar form and a Latin or Latinized form.
A number of Italian surnames end with i because they derive greatly from those Latin notarial formulas, in which patronymics were registered. For example:
- in a notarial certificate Pietro, son of Martino, was written as Petrus filius Martini and over time “filius” disappeared.
The ending in i was incorporated into other types of surnames, such as those derived from place names:
- In Lombardy, the surname Inzaghi was formed from Inzago; from Galbiate: Galbiati; from Turate: Turati, etc.
The same thing happened with those derived from names derived from trades or nicknames:
- Iohannes filius Ferrario (Giovanni son of the blacksmith) –> Giovanni Ferrari
The ending –i would refer to “family groups”
The -i of Italian surnames does represent, in principle, the ending of the Latin singular masculine genitive used by notaries for the drafting of their writings. These denominations seem to apply better to family groups, rather than to families in the restricted sense of the word. It could be said it applies to peoples, tribes, people living in the same house or perhaps, on the same street.
However, there are numerous exceptions, for example:
- Paoli is considered by some authors to be just an adaptation of Pauli from the notarial Latin.
The -i ending is much more frequent in the North, while, in Central and South Italy, surnames generally have other vowel endings (o, a, u), sometimes also accented, due to different linguistic origins.
If we take 100 of the most frequent surnames in the 20 Italian regions, only 878 out of 2000 end in -i; 526 end in -o, 233 end in -a, 151 end in -e, 60 end in -n, 44 end in -r, 41 end in -s, 28 in -u and 70 end with other letters.