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By John Di Feliciantonio

For centuries all over the world, people had only one “official” name, given to them by their families. Today, having a surname as well as a first name, while not universal, is common in Europe as well as in the United States.

Italy began using last names in about the 12th century, but they did not become hereditary until the 14th century. Last names were chosen based on many different criteria including occupation, city or town of origin, a person’s peculiar or identifying characteristic pertaining to a physical feature or character trait or even a father’s first name. Mine, for example, Di Feliciantonio, (Happy Anthony’s) indicates sometime in my family’s past, there was a happy man named Antonio, who had at least one child.

The famous Italians and Italian Americans listed below also have last names that mean something in Italian. See how many you can recognize. For the answers, see below.

1. Nancy Pelosi

a) pelt b) pellet c) penalty d) hairy

2. Tommy LaSorda

a) blind b) deaf c) dumb d) lame

3. Annette Funicello

a) branch b) funicular c) thin rope d) fair

4. Jim Croce

a) crock b) crucible c) chronicle d) cross

5. the Gallo brothers

a) parrot b) rooster c) gallon d) poll

6. Fiorello LaGuardia

a) guard b) vanguard c) policeman d) watch dog

7. Giuseppe Verdi

a) vernacular b) green c) yellow d) Friday

8. Napoleon Bonaparte

a) good man b) bon vivant c) good part d) good heart

9. Joe DiMaggio

a) of cheese b) of May c) of major d) of magnitude

10. Enrico Fermi

a) firm b) steady c) stable d) at a standstill





1.D – 2. B – 3. C – 4. D – 5. B – 6. A – 7. B – 8. C – 9. B – 10. ALL


Reprinted from the OSIA’ Italian America Magazine (Winter 2014 issue) and with permission of Dona De Sanctis, editor-in-chief.