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Jewish Family Names in Italy *
Summarized and Translated from Spanish to Hebrew by Joseph Covo
Translated from the Hebrew
In Issue 16 (March 2002) of Toldot, the publication of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Argentina an interesting article appeared on Jewish family names in Italy by Adolfo Kuznitzky. The author based his paper on the research conducted by a number of scholars on the topic including Pedro Dineri, Cologni, Hazan, C. Roth, Schaerf and others. In the first part of his article, Dr. Kuznitzky focuses on a number of the basic rules of onomastics, the study of names. He states that there are two methods used to determine names: the nominal for the first name and the cognominal that also includes the family name. At the same time, while the first method is always subject to change and gives people the widest range in choosing a first name, the second method which includes the family name is fixed and set and also has overtones of being imposed. This method points out particular details connected with the bearer of the name, e.g. places, occupations and the like. This phenomenon is much more widespread among Jews. Sixty percent of Jewish family names in Italy indicate a place of origin or residence, while this holds true for only 37% of Italian family names of the general population. It is not coincidental that four of the family names of Italian Jews who were awarded the Nobel Prize reflect the cognominal method: Levi, Montalcini, Fermi and Segre.
In the author’s opinion toponyms (a name derived from a place or region) are good indications of the place of origin of Italian Jews. On the other hand, names ending with “audi” (Granbaudi), “esio” (Milanesio), “ero” (Barbero) and “asco” (Bagnasco) typical names of the Piedmont region are not Jewish. In many cases, Jews tried to hide their origin. They did this by rearranging the order of the letters - thus, Levi became Viel, Eliav became Veali and so on.
Dr. Kuznitzky differentiates between Jews who “lived in Italy forever” and those Jews who arrived because of persecutions or expulsions, such as Jews from Spain. As examples, he gives the names Useglio (an original Italian Jew), Foa (of French origin), Otolenghi (of German origin) and Zamorani (of Spanish origin). Among Italian names that point to a Jewish ancestor, are many that show that the bearer wished to emphasize his Christian identity – among these are De Benedetti (blessed), Battezato and Aguado (one who has been baptized), Sabatini and Sabatello (derived from Shabbat) and Del Monte (from the mountain, as the majority of Rome’s Jews lived on Mt. San Lorenzo). The author also calls attention to the name Arias, which in his opinion is derived from the word “parias,” the term used in Portugal for Jews who remained in that country.
In the second section of the article, Dr. Kuznitzky presents a list of Jewish family names and divides them according the following criteria:
1. Family names of Spanish origin: Agranati, Alamanzi, Aragona, Duran, Girondi, Porto and Segre.
2. Family names of French origin: Bedarida (Bedarides), Carcassona (Carcassone), Cavaglione (Cavaglion), Foa (Foix), Momigliano (Montmelian).
3. Family names of German origin: Allpron (Heilbrun), Diena (Jena), Luzzatti (Lausitz), Morpurgo (Marburg), Minzi (Mainz), Otolenghi (Ettingen) and Treves (Triers).
4. Ethnic family names: from France – Gallico and Zarfatti; from Germany – Grego, Polacco and Tedeschi.
5. Toponyms – deriving from North or Central Italy: Ascoli, Bassano, Camenino, Cividale, Fano, Foligno, Milani, Modigliani, Montefiore, Orvietto, Padovano/i, Pavia, Peruggia, Pugliese, Recanatti, Rietti, Romano, Sonnino, Vercelli and Viterbo. Regarding the name Finzi, the author indicates that it is one of the most prestigious and widespread names. There are three possible origins of the name: from the Italian city Faenza, from the name Pinhas or from the city Pilsen.
6. Family names with a Hebrew origin: Angeli (Malachi), Bemporad (Ben Porath), Benedicto (Barukh), Bolaffio (Abulafia), Bonaventura (Mazal Tov), Cesare (Hezekiah), Colombo (Jonah), Consolo (Nahman), Del Vecchio (old), Ferro (Barzilai), Forti (strong), Grassini (Gershon), Guiglielmo (Benjamin), Leone (Judah), Marco (Mordecai), Mestre (Rabbi), Pacifici (Solomon), Sacredote (Kohen), Tranquillo (Manoah) and Vivante (Hayim).
In a number of places, the author reminds us that the determination of the origin of the family names mentioned in his article must be done with the utmost caution since they are not exclusively Jewish names and represent only a partial indication regarding the possible Jewish origin of the bearer of that name.
* Based on the article that appeared in Toldot, the journal of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Argentina, Number 16, March 2002.
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©2003 Yehuda Ribco. Todos los derechos son propiedad de sus autores.