How to understand FIRST NAMES

I was inspired for this series of posts by the many requests for help that are posted on Facebook groups, where assistance in understanding handwritten records is asked.

Handwriting can be an issue, and not only for foreigners. Sometimes, even Italians struggle with unintelligible words and sentences.

Well, believe it or not, in some cases it is possible to by-pass the handwriting problem.

We could call it…


Here is my second post and it is dedicated to FIRST NAMES

(the previous one was dedicated to PLACE NAMES, here is the link, if you missed it:

I am not going to teach you how to read a particular calligraphy. I am going to give you some hints which may be helpful to interpretate the correct name.


  1. Italian names follow the grammar rules for the Italian language.

For example, the letter T is never preceded by M: it should be preceded by N.

The following transcription, for example, is wrong: the right name can only be Costantino.

Also, the letter Q is always followed by U. The below name cannot exist is Italy, and its correct spelling is Pasqua.

Some random rules, then: the letters C, D, F, G, L, R, S, T, V, Z are not preceded by M, they must be preceded by N.

Examples: Concetta, Sandro, Angelo, Enrico, Anselmo, Antonio, Enzo.

The name Amleto is an exception because it is imported from a foreign language.

The letters P and B are not preceded by N, they must be preceded by M (Ambrogio) except in the first names which are composed by Gian + another name: Gian+Piero = Gianpiero; Gian+Paolo = Gianpaolo.

2. The great majority of Italian given names are always the same. Inventing new names was very rare among our ancestors. So, do not crash your head for something new, as it is probably a very common name. In the following example: Feresa does not exist, the name is surely Teresa.

The same for this hard-to-believe Anibragio, which can only be Ambrogio

3. Check a list of Italian first names, for example

or other similar websites. I am sure you will find the mysterious one of your ancestor!

4. It was very common to honor relatives or godparents giving a newborn their same name, so a first name is often repeated in the family: check other relatives to figure out if the mystery name appears in other occurrences.

5. In some areas of Italy, though, the tendence to give a newborn a brand new, unique name was very common. In Toscana and Emilia Romagna, for example. In these regions you may actually stumble upon very strange first names. In the following case, the son was baptized as D’Artagnan (parents were eventually fans of the Three Musketeers!)

6. If the name looks – or actually is – very peculiar, check the protector saint of the town, or the saint to whom the parish is dedicated: it can be a clue.

For names of saints – even the most unlikely – check:

In the following example, the name is Genesio: very peculiar, but absolutely common in the town of origin of this person. Saint Genesio (whoever he was) is the town protector.

7. Two names were often joined together to form a composed name:

Maria+Anna = Marianna

Giovanni+Luca = Gianluca

Michele+Angelo = Michelangelo

8. In handwritten records, names were often abbreviated:

M. or M.a for Maria

G.ppe for Giuseppe

Gio.Batta for Giovanni Battista for Domenico

Ant.o for Antonio

Vinc.o for Vincenzo

Cat.a for Caterina

9. Sometimes, calligraphy required the first, capital letter of a name to be written in a more sumptuous way, which is today hard to understand. If you can’t get a clue about the name, disregard the first letter and try to identify the name basing on the other letters.

10. In Italian, Don is no name: it is a title of respect for a noteworthy person in town, or for a priest. The same for Donna: it is the feminine version of the title Don.

11. Of course, if you can, check multiple records containing the same name, including signatures

Remember: the correct spelling is always Giuseppe!

The spelling Guiseppe is wrong!

The same for Giulio (correct spelling) who is not Guilio.