Surnames of Orphans and Foundlings
Names can tell a lot when researching our Italian roots. But there are some names which tell a sadder tale back several generations or so. Orphans and foundlings in Italy were given special names. Proietti, Esposito, Trovato, Colombo, Colombini, Casadei, are frequent Italian surnames that reflect a harsh reality that existed in the Italy of our grandparents. A reality that may seem incomprehensible if we do not know the social and economic particularities of the time in which they lived.
You can find these surnames in your genealogical search.
In the past many newborn children were abandoned on the roads or in the fields where they were usually killed by hunger or the predation of an animal. A true drama that greatly affected all of Italy, in the north and in the south, although some researchers point out that it was greater in Sicily.
The abandonment of newborn children is an old phenomenon, widely used in some ancient societies, for example in ancient Rome the percentage of abandoned children ranged between 20-40% and in Greece 10%. Around 1800 the phenomenon of abandoned children took on enormous proportions, in Milan and in other European cities it accounted for 1/3 of the births.
On the next century, that figure raised drammatically until reached 130,000 in 1833. According to some estimates in Western Europe in the years around 1850 more than 100,000 children were abandoned per year. In Catholic countries such as Italy and France, the phenomenon of non-recognition of birth was more important than in predominantly Protestant countries, where laws guaranteed the secrecy of motherhood and single women were allowed to give birth anonymously in public structures leaving the baby in them. In Italy, only in the late 1800s, women in labor had similar options.
The reasons for abandonment
The reasons for abandonment were mainly: poverty (remember that more than 70% of the population was poor), prostitution, unequal relations between employers and servitude, children of parents who did not recognize and did not want to protect the child. Some statistics also show that in many cases, the greatest number of dropouts occurred after an epidemic, as in 1861 with the cholera epidemic. Every day there’s an increase in the price of bread. To more increases of the cost of bread, more children’s abandonment. Foundlings exposed outdoors are around one or two week old. 85% of these babies do not survive more than 2 or 3 weeks after being found.
In the cities, the workers’ families could not keep more than 4-5 children at the same time and a new birth was a problem for the family economy, also because the working women worked and did not have much time to devote to the raising of children. children. And there were no known birth controls (contraceptives). This was a common practice.
In the 18th century the situation of the proietti in the kingdom had become untenable. A remedy to this barbarism was put by the French government of Napoleón Bonaparte after the annexation of the Kingdom of Napoli to the Kingdom Italic (1805-1816) although it was not a novelty.
Around 1750 a new practice of baby hatches or foundling wheels is implemented. They are cylinders set upright in the outside wall of hospitals, like revolving doors. Used to deposit the children, preserving the parents’ anonymity, they reduced the amount of children left in the streets.
Many of these children, who were attended by wetnurses and survived, might be our ancestors. If they were not returned to their parents, they were sent to the military service or to populate the overseas colonies. The girls continued working as cooks, as cleaners or seamstresses at the hospices.
Foundling Surnames – The “trovatelli”
Abandoned infants had surnames assigned to them by the foundling homes where they were abandoned and often a new surname may be assigned to the infant when placed with a wet nurse in a foster family. Before 1928 foundlings (abandoned children) were often given surnames by the record keepers or, in some cases, wealthy families or the godparents who assumed responsibility for the child.
These surnames were imposed on children who were abandoned and found in the vicinity of churches, palaces or houses. This class of surnames was chosen by religious institutions or, after the establishment of the civil registry, by the Civil Officer, who occasionally had the pleasure of inventing particularly curious forms or linked to the calendar or the conditions in which they found the child .
Thus emerged surnames related to the days of the week (Lunedino, Sabatino, etc.) and with the months (August, Agostiale, Marziano, Settembrino, etc.). These surnames vary according to the places and traditions, although some standardized forms are remarkable. So we have: Esposito in Campania, Degli Spositi in Emilia, Proietti in Lazio and Umbria, Trovato (found) in Sicily, Innocenti, Degl’Innocenti and Nocentini in Tuscany.
Other surnames derived from the institution that collected the abandoned children, in general form as Casadio, Casadei (house of God) in the Emilia Romagna, Casagrande in Le Marche, Umbria, Veneto. Or specifically Colombo, Colombelli, Colombini by the symbol of the Ospizio di Santa Caterina della Ruota, Milano.
Some names derive from the name of the saint considered protector of the institution that collected the children: Santantonio, Sangiuseppe, Sangrato. Also in relation to Jesus Christ (Gesú) Gesumio, Gesunostro, Santogesù, Gloriagesù; with Maria: Santamaria, Nostramaria, Mariano; with God: Santididdio, Diotallevi, Graziadio; or with the cross: Santacroce.
Other surnames: Arfanetti, Armandonada, Bardotti, Bastardo, Casasanta, Dati, della Donna, della Femmina, della Fortuna, della Gioia, della Stella, Dell ‘Amore, dell’orfano, del Gaudio, Diodata, D’Amore, D’ Ignoto, Esposto, Esposito, Esposuto, Fortuna, Ignotis, Incerto, Incognito, Innocenti, Innocentini, Mulo, Naturale, Nocenti, Nocentini, Proietti, Ritrovato, Salvati, Sposito, Spurio, Stellato, Trovatello, Trovato, Ventura, Venturini.
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