The Ustica Connection

Newsletter of the Congregazione di San Bartolomeo Apostolo
Issue 13 - 8 December 2013


Usticesi Given Names
By Chris Caravella

Presented below is a table of Italian given names and their English translations.   The list of given names is based on a limited dataset of about 12,000 entries taken from the vital statistics records of a single town in Sicily (Ustica) spanning the time period from roughly 1820 - 1900.   These would be the names most commonly associated with our immigrant ancestors but the dataset is certainly too geographically small to be representative of all Italian given names.   The limited scope of the dataset does, however, point out some of the more interesting aspects of naming conventions in Italy as a whole and how given names got transformed into their English counterparts.   It should come as no surprise that most of the names are of religious origin given Italy's deep-rooted association with the Roman Catholic Church.   The top names in this dataset are Joseph (Giuseppe) and Mary (Maria) followed by other well-known biblical and religious names.   There are, however, other names that most people familiar with Italian names will never have heard of, and also many common names that are obviously missing.

Many given names in Italy tend to be specific to certain towns or regions.   The tradition of naming children after after a town's patron saint can account for some of this.   For instance, St. Bartholomew is the patron saint of Lipari and Ustica, so the name Bartolomeo and its female equivalent Bartolomea, is over-represented in those areas.   And because it is not a common name in Italy, the name may never occur in other areas, even those nearby.   The use of odd given names is further amplified by the naming mechanism Italians used to honor a child's grandparents.   This naming convention is not uncommon in Europe but the Italians were particularly consistent in its use.   The first-born son is named after the father's dad, the first-born daughter is named after the father's mom, the second-born son is named after the mother's dad and the second-born daughter is named after the mother's mom.   If one of these children were to die, then the name is reused for the next born child of the same gender.   After the names of the grandparents are used, names of other close relatives are typically used.   This naming mechanism inadvertently promotes the reuse of given names no matter how odd they may have been, so much so that sometimes a family's hometown can be determined just by the given names of the family members.

There are other naming conventions that make given names such a rich and interesting part of Italian culture.   Italians use lots of "virtue" names like Faith (Fedele), Grace (Grazia), Felicity (Felice/Felicia) and Blessed (Benedetto).   The same goes for names based on religious terms like Conception (Concetta), Annunciation (Annunziata or Nunziata), Rosary (Rosario/Rosaria), Easter (Pasquale) and Christmas (Natale).   And there are always some really odd ones that seem totally alien and just do not translate well, like Gaetano/Gaetana (saint from Gaeta, a city north of Naples), Eleuterio (a 2nd century Pope) or Calcedonia (chalcedony - a form of agate).   Italians were also fond of using female-equivalent names of male given names following the general gender pattern of nouns in the Italian language - an o at the end indicating male, an a at the end indicating female.   This was another way to further honor grandfathers by simply swaping out an a for the o on the end of his name and giving the name to one of the later born daughters.   Often in English there are no translations for female-equivalent male names such as Michela (Michael), Vincenza (Vincent) and Raffaela (Raphael).   These types of names certainly presented a challenge for immigrants eager to be accepted in their new home in America.   Where possible, most names were substituted with their English counterparts but for the odd ones, anything phonetically close was often used.   A great example of this is the name Onofrio (an Egyptian hermit saint).   Italians abbreviate names using the end of the name, unlike the English who use the beginning.   Onofrio would have been shortened to Nofri or its phonetic equivalent Norphy, and somehow this got morphed into Murphy, an actual Irish surname.   All of those forms appear in public records.   Murphy stuck, however, and spread among the Italian immigrant community, at least in New Orleans which was a major immigration destination for the names represented in the dataset.   It was also quite common for unusual interpretations of given names to come into common use even if the name had a viable English counterpart.   Such is the case with the use of Henry for Andrea (Andrew), Rachel for Grazia (Grace), Samuel for Salvatore (Salvador) and Walter for Bartolomeo (Bartholomew).

English interpetations of Italian given names can often present difficulties when trying to tie an individual to Italian documents.

The table below is expanded to also include the various forms and meanings of the given names.   Abbreviated names as well as diminutives, such as Angelina for Angela, were common in everyday use, but were never used in official Italian documents.   This is not the case for official documents in America, where Italian names were often unfamiliar and nicknames were commonly recorded.   A special note should be made concerning the names Antonino and Rosina.   At one time in the ancient past they were diminutives of Antonio (does not occur in this dataset) and Rosa.   Over time, saints and historical figures have born the dimnutive forms and because of this ancient historical usage each has become an accepted given name and each appears in official Italian documents.   The translation table should help identify the root Italian given names of our ancestors which will greatly aid in researching historical Italian documents.   A good website for exploring the roots of given names is or you can try just plugging the name into a language translator like

Usticesi Given Names

NameCountCommon TranslationOdd TranslationDiminutiveNicknameVirtue/ReligiousOdd Origin
Maria 679Marie  Mamie  
Antonino 646Anthony  Nino, Tony  ancient diminutive of Antonio
Giovanni 546John      
Francesco 528Frank, Francis      
Angela 455Angela  AngelinaLena Angel 
Caterina 402Catherine  Kate  
Salvatore 397Salvador Samuel  Sal, Sam Savior  
Giuseppa 388Josephine Giuseppina    
Rosalia 357Rosalie     
Rosa 355Rose      
Gaetano 326 Charles Tano, Guy  Caietanus, saint from Gaeta,
a city north of Naples
Anna 295Ann     
Vincenzo 290Vincent      
Pietro 280Peter     
Francesca 274Frances     
Giovanna 184 Johanna, Hannah   female version of John
Felice 173Felix   Felicity  
Angelo 167Angelo James JimAngel 
Nunziata 141Nancy   Annunciation  
Antonina 134Antoinette Annette Nina   
Bartolomeo 133BartholomewWalter  Bartolo, Bart, Bat  
Marianna 131Mary Ann      
Grazia 130GraceRachel   Grace 
Concetta 123    Conception  
Giacomo 121JamesJack, Jacob    
Andrea 102Andrew Henry    
Carmela 93CarmelaCamille    
Carmelo 90Carmel Emile    
Domenica87   Minica  female version of Dominick
Luigi 86Louis     
Margherita85Margaret   Rita   
Michele 83MichaelMitchel    
Vincenza80 Virginia    female version of Vincent
Rosaria 77   Sarah  
Nicola77Nicholas   Cola   
Filippo 76Philip      
Pasquale65Pascal Patrick  Easter  
Felicia 61FeliciaLouise   Felicity  
Bartolomea60 Bertha  Bartola female version of Bartholomew
Ignazio 59Ignatius James Nash  
Onofrio 57 Murphy Neff; Onuphrius, hermit saint of Egypt
Calogero56 Charles   Calogerus, a hermit saint of Sicily
Maria Rosa53Mary RoseRosemary     
Tommaso 51Thomas   Massie   
Emmanuele 48Manuel      
Vito47 Victor   Life  
Santa 47 Sadie  Saint 
Agostino47August   Gus  
Lucia 43Lucille   Lucy  
Gaetana 40   Tannie  female version of Gaetano
Paola 38Paula  Pauline  
Vita37    Life female version of Vito
Rosario 37 Richard  Rosary  
Maddalena 37Madeleine     
Lorenzo 37Lawrence      
Carlo 37Charles     
Gennaro 36     January
Giaocchino34JoachimJack, Jacob    
Paolo 33Paul      
Maria Concetta33    Conception  
Nunziato32   Nuncie, NuncyAnnunciation  
Fedele31FidelFrederick  Faith 
Barbara 31Barbara     
Agata 30Agatha      
Stefano 29Stephen     
Maria Teresa27Maria Theresa     
Michelangelo23   Michael the archangel Michael
Filomena23   Mina   
Alberto 23Albert      
Leonardo22Leonard  Leon  
Alessio 22Alex      
Raffaela21     female version of Raphael
Mariano 20Marion      
Maria Candida 19    Candid, Sincere
Santo 18    Saint 
Maria Giuseppa18Mary Josephine      
Leonarda18 Leona    
Litterio17 Leo   Eleuterio - 2nd century pope
Filippa 17     female version of Philip
Biaggio 17Blaise      
Natale16Natal   Christmas 
Gaspare 16Jasper      
Benedetto 16Benedict    Blessed 
Annunziata16Nancy   Annunciation  
Girolama15     female version of Jerome
Ninfa 14     nymph
Ignazia 14     female version of Ignatius
Saverio 12Xavier   Sheva  
Rosina12     ancient diminutive of Rosa
Calcedonia12     chalcedony (a form of agate)
Maria Grazia11Mary Grace      
Luiga 11Louise      
Serafino10    Seraphim  
Michela 10  Michelina   female version of Michael
Maria Antonia 10Marie Antoinett     
Eugenio 10Eugene      
Cristina10Christina   Christian 
Cono10 Nicholas    cone?
Aniello 10     little lamb