Surnames of Italy

Italians are finally catching up with the rest of the world in the realm of surnames. 

350,000 surnames can be found in Italy, the highest number of different surnames in one country in the world.  In Italy up to 2016 it was not legally possible to have more than one surname.

I can hear the shouting from all over the world.

“That’s not true, my ancestors have more than one surname.  I have seen documents with a double surname.” 

Actually what you have seen is the towns’ attempt to keep things straight by adding a ‘sopranome’ to their surname.  This has been happening for centuries but the extra name was just an appendage not actually part of the surname.

The town of Chioggia in Veneto is unique in that there are so many surname/name combinations that they not only used these sopranomi as appendages, they actually need to add them to official documents like Identity cards and driver’s licenses.  You begin to understand the problem when you realize that there are 22 persons with the name Angelo Boscolo in today’s ‘phone book.  You only need to check out Marco Boscolo to see the variety of sopranomi added to the Boscolo surname.

In 2016 the Constitutional Court changed the law to permit double surnames to be given to a baby at the time of birth registration only, a double surname, providing BOTH parents agree, and with the surname of the mother FOLLOWING that of the father.

They have followed the example of many Latin countries and have simply used the mother’s surname in the same way as a sopranome is already being used in many Comunes.  It also puts the paternal surname in first position in an alphabetical index which is always good for genealogists!

I wonder how this will work in Campania which is the region with the most unusual surnames.  Abbraciavento (embrace the wind) Ammazzalamorte (Embrace death) Saltamerenda (skip snack) Senzaquattrini (without money) Tremamondo (shake the world) Sprecacenere (save the ashes)  to name just a few.  Imagine a double surname of Ammazzalamorte Sprecacenere!

Let’s look at some other countries.

France allows the couple to choose either the father’s surname OR the mother’s or a hyphenation of both surnames.

In Japan a baby takes the surname of the couple who have chosen either his or her surname on marriage.

In the U.S.A. each State has its own version of the law.

  • In Georgia the child can have the surname of either parent or a combination of the two. 
  • In Louisiana the child must take the father’s surname if the couple are married and the mother’s surname if they are not, unless both parties agree to change it.
  • Arizona and Washington restrict the number of characters.
  • Texas restricts the use of accents and umlauts.
  • Alabama has no rules!

In Canada when a double surname is chosen the order of the surnames can be the choice of the couple.  A child can even be given ‘the other parent’s’ surname.

The UK and New Zealand have the most liberal rules. A child may be given:

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