Naming laws and traditions in Italy

Italy is famous for its bureaucracy and this is very evident when you are naming your child.

As the birth comes closer names names are bandied around.  Will you choose a family name, the name of an ancestor, the name of your favourite actor, or even a fanciful name?

The name you chose will last for the child’s lifetime and may not be easy to change.

Some countries have adopted laws restricting the names parents’ can give to their child. These laws are intended to protect the child from offensive or embarrassing names or those that could leave the child open to ridicule. America does not appear to have any standard rules although some states ban numerals and a few ban obscenities.  This accounts for John Wayne’s name at birth being Marion, Prince changing his name to a symbol and Frank Zappa naming his daughters Moon Unit, Dweezil and Diva Muffin.

In China you cannot give your child the same name as the reigning Emperor and you must choose a name with characters that computer scanners can read. Japan only allows one first name and one surname.  Azerbaijan, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Saudi Arabia, and Tajikistan all have lists of approved names to choose from. 

Whereas in France where Napoleon created the naming laws that Italy still follows, the laws were changed in 1993 to permit free choice.  In Italy today, it is still forbidden to: –

  1. Give a child the same name as a living father. However, you can add a second name.  For example: The father is Giuseppe, the child may be named Giuseppe Antonio. (note: no comma separating the two names)
  2. The same name as a living brother or sister. However, Maria, Maria Antonia, Maria Domenica, Maria Rosa are acceptable within the same family.
  3. A surname as a first name.
  4. More than three ‘first’ names.
  5. The name normally given to the other sex. The only exception is Andrea.  The name Maria may also be given to a male child as a second name. For example: Giuseppe Maria.
  6. A ridiculous or shameful name.  This also refers to combination of name and surname.  This may sound acceptable when spoken as “first name, last name” such as Daria Tromba but when reversed as is the practice in Italy Tromba Daria can become vulgar and shameful

Regardless, the official cannot refuse to register the name you choose but if he feels it does not meet the guidelines he can refer it to the Procuratore della Repubblica for a final decision.

In one case the family wanted to name their child Venerdì but the Judge disagreed and imposed the name of Gregorio who was the Patron Saint of his birthdate. Sabato and Domenica are acceptable just not the other days of the week.  While numerals are also forbidden the words are not.  You will find people named Primo, Secondo, Quinto, Sesto, Settimo, Ottavio!

Thankfully it is now forbidden to give an abandoned child a surname that identifies them as being without named parents, such as Trovato and Esposito.  

How does this help in your research?  Look for the “comma” or lack of it when studying a record.  If the name is Domenico Antonio and there is no comma between the two names then it is considered ONE name.

He might have a brother with just the name Domenico.  They are different people. 

Names in Italy also tend to be regional.  Take note of the names found in your town’s records.  If you see one that seems out of place it may be that one of the parents were from another town or region.

One comment

  1. That explains a lot. I always wondered why my bisnonna [b.1846[ had 6 given names, while others had 8! Yet the next generations had only 2 or 3 given names. And my husband’s bisnonna’s first husband was named Primo. I figured he was the first son. maybe?


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