Sometimes in our
names there are very important and indelible traces of the
pasts of our ancestors. For example, an honorific title
given in a community for a family with a certain type of
profession, or a person who held a prominent office.
In this article I
will discuss the origin of some prefixes (not to be confused
with Di, De, La, Lo, Della, Delli, which are patronymic
prefixes that are treated in previous articles).
We'll talk of
surnames beginning with social, political or trade-related
prefixes; a widespread form is a variation of ‘Ser-’
(signore), as in Seripando (‘Signor’ or ‘Mr.’ Ipando);
Sarnicola or Sernicola (Signor Nicola); Sersale or Serisale
(Signor Isale), and then many others, usually used in
reference to a very important person in a community. This
does not mean, however, that its founder had been a
‘gentleman’, but more likely that the founder of the family
worked in the employ of a local lord or that the progenitor
was simply worthy of respect and nothing more. Of course
not all surnames beginning with ‘Ser-‘ or ‘Sar-‘ have this
origin, and surnames ending in ‘-aro’, are most likely
arisen from trades and those ending in ‘-ano’ indicate a
place of origin.
Then there are other prefixes:
Abategiovanni; Abaterusso; Abatangelo; Abatianni; Gianni
Abate; Abbatecola, etc., indicating, usually, the family
included an abbot of a monastery.
Mastrogiovanni; Mastrosimone; Mastrolonardo (Mastro
Leonardo); Mastrolitto (Mastro Litto); Mastroddi (Mastro
Oddo); Mastrofini (Mastro Up); Mastrorilli (Mastro Rillo);
Mastrantonio; Mastrogiacomo; Mastromattei; Mastrofrancesco
etc., indicating a master craftsman.
Consolmagno etc. (See Console, Consoli, etc.), having to do
with a counselor.
the Ducagiuliano etc., having to do with a Duke, or an
ancestor with the attitudes or bearing of a ‘duke’.
Notarnicola; Notargiacomo; de Notaristefani (corr. to de
Notaristefanis) etc. indicating they had a notary in the
family or were under the authority of a notary.
Barsanti (Barone Sante) etc. having to do with a Baron, or
an ancestor with the attitudes or bearing of a ‘baron’;
although, in some cases, the surname Baron and derivatives
were from the Germanic name Barone, from ‘freeman’.
Iacovo de Vicar, Del Vicario, Dello Vicario, etc indicating
they had a Vicar in the family or were under the authority
of a Vicar.
Monsurrocco; Monsurrò (abbr. of the previous name) and so
on, indicating the ancestor may have had a monsignor in the
family or have been employed by a monsignor, although it is
possibly a derivation from the French word ‘monsieur’ or
meaning principal or chief; Protonotaro (Chief Notary); Protomastro; Protogiudice;
There are also the
surname prefixes ‘Do-’, ‘Don-'
and 'Dom-', which therefore reveal the
retention of Dominus (i.e. ‘signore’, ‘lord’; see
the case of surnames prefixed by ‘Ser-‘), as
Donsante (Don Sante), Dongiovanni (Don Giovanni), Dommarco
(Don Marco), etc.
patronymics retain the prefixes ‘Fra-’ and ‘Frat-’ (fratello,
brother), for example surnames such as Fratianni,
Frateloreto, etc., because they originated from the names of
ancient monks, so common in the Middle Ages, who were
obviously not obliged to celibacy, or having had a friar in
the family or having been placed under the authority of a
friar; in some rare cases such appositions meant instead
'Knight of Malta', because it was precisely the common use
to precede the names of these riders with this title, in the
sense of ‘brother’.
In the next
article we will discuss just surnames that are derived from
trade names, which represent a large slice of Italian
surnames. ~ Lorenzo Cirelli