Conversion of Sicilian and Italian Surnames

        Knowing your relative’s name in his/her original language is very important. Before you start searching old records, take the time to determine the right name, including its correct spelling. Below on the left is a table of Sicilian/Italian surnames with their pronunciation and their meanings or literal translations, followed by the names they may have been changed to in America.  Similarly on the right is a table arranged by Americanized surnames showing the Sicilian/Italian names from which they may have been derived.

        Contrary to widespread belief, immigrants' names were not "changed at Ellis Island."  The passenger manifests for the ships on which immigrants arrived were made out at the point of embarkation, by native language speakers.  There may have been minor spelling errors, but not wholesale changes, and Ellis Island immigration officials (and Castle Garden officials before them) used the names as they were on the manifests.  Often, names were 'Anglicized', that is, modified after the immigrant had settled somewhere, by American clerks, employers or neighbors who could not or would not pronounce the "foreign names".  So names were often modified to a more recognizable (or acceptable) name.  Since many immigrants were illiterate and actually did not know how to spell their own names, they may have accepted incorrect or completely different versions of their name. 

        In the pronunciation guide, the emphasized syllable is shown in CAPITALS.  Note that vowels in both the Sicilian and Italian languages have the following sounds: A is “ah”; E is “eh” (“long a”); I is “ee”; O is “oh” (“long o), and U is “oo” (like the "oo" in "foot".. “ A, E, I, O, U” in Italian is “ah, eh, ee, oh, oo”!!  The English sound of I (“long i” as in “eye”) is given by the combination “ai” in Sicilian or Italian.   Sicilian/Italian have no letter "k", "y" or "w".  They have a letter written like "j", but this "j" is actually a form of the letter "i", and is pronounced as we would pronounce "y" in English.

       Novice researchers may ask "What is the English translation of the Sicilian surname _______?" and many surnames were translated literally. Thus, Curto became Short, and Molinaro (moh-lih-NAH-roh) became Miller.  Some names were converted phonetically into English spellings.  For example, Castello in Sicilian is pronounced kah-STELL-oh, but Americans thought it should be spelled Costello.  Some changes were simply modified spellings, for example changing Ganci (GAHN-chee) to Gangi.   Some were one-time errors on censuses or naturalization records, as in my family's case: Coniglio (coh-NEEL-yoh) to Camellia.  

       These are nat all the possible variations There are limitless possibilities for the Anglicization of Sicilian/Italian names, especially since in many cases, the first letter of the 'foreign' name was simply used as the first letter of a completely different 'American' name. 

 
 

SICILIAN/ITALIAN SURNAMES > ENGLISH NAMES

Sicilian/Italian to English

Italian/
Sicilian

Pronunciation

Meaning

American Version

Alessi ah-LEH-see Alex Lacey
d'Antonio don-TOH-nee-oh of Antonio Anthony
Aprile ah -PREE-leh April April
Baiamonte buy-uh-MOHN-teh howls on the mountain Baymont
Baldi BAHL-dee bold Baldo, Bardo, Bald
Bruccoleri brew-koh-LEHR-ee broccoli farmer Brucklier
Campobello kahm-poh-BELL-oh beautiful field Campbell, Beacham, Beauchamp, Fairfield
Castello kah-STELL-oh castle Costello
Coniglio koh-NEEL-toh rabbit Cornelia, Camellia
Cucchiara
Cucchiaia
cook-YAR-uh
cook-YAH-yuh
spoon Spoon, Spohn
Curto KOOR-toh short Short
Ferrantino fehr-ahn-TEE-noh   Farrington
Ferraro fehr-AH-roh blacksmith Smith
Ganci GAHN-chee hook Gangi
Giarratano jar-uh-TAHN-oh from Giarra Jerrytone
Giglia JEEL-yuh lily Gelia
Giocolano joke-oh-LAH-noh juggler Yucolano
Giordano jor-DAH-noh   Jordan
di Giorgio dee GEORGE-oh of Giorgio DiGeorge, George
di Giovanni dee-joh-VAHN-ee of Giovanni DiJohn, John
Iannello yahn-NELL-oh little John Yannello
Ingrao in-GRAH-oh   Angros
Iuculano yuke-oo-LAH-noh juggler Yucolano
Martino mar-TEE-noh   Martin
Mele MAY-lee honey Mayle
Molinaro moh-lih-NAH-roh miller Miller
la Paglia la PAHL-yuh straw Straw
Pelliteri pell-ih-TAIR-ee furrier Peltier
Sciortino shor-TEE-noh   Short
Sebastiani seh-bahs-tee-AH-nee   Sebastian
Territo tair-EE-toh   Treat
Tramontana tra-moon-TAH-nuh north wind Tramont
Iannello yahn-NELL-oh little John Yannello
DiVincenzo dee-vihn-CHAINZ-oh of Vincenzo DiJames, James,
Vincent
   

 English to Sicilian/Italian

American Version

Italian/
Sicilian

Pronunciation

Meaning

Angros Ingrao in-GRAH-oh  
Anthony d'Antonio don-TOH-nee-oh of Antonio
April Aprile ah -PREE-leh April
Bald, Baldo, Bardo Baldi BAHL-dee bold
Baymont Baiamonte buy-uh-MOHN-teh howls on the mountain
Beacham, Beauchamp Campobello kahm-poh-BELL-oh beautiful field
Camellia Coniglio koh-NEEL-toh rabbit
Cornelia Coniglio koh-NEEL-toh rabbit
Costello Castello kah-STELL-oh castle
Fairfield Campobello kahm-poh-BELL-oh beautiful field
Farrington Ferrantino fehr-ahn-TEE-noh  
Gangi Ganci GAHN-chee hook
Gelia Giglia JEEL-yuh lily
George, DiGeorge di Giorgio dee GEORGE-oh of Giorgio
James, DiJames DiVincenzo dee-vihn-CHAINZ-oh of Vincenzo
Jerrytone Giarratano jar-uh-TAHN-oh from Giarra
John di Giovanni dee-joh-VAHN-ee of Giovanni
Jordan Giordano jor-DAH-noh  
Lacey Alessi ah-LEH-see Alex
Martin Martino mar-TEE-noh  
Mayle Mele MAY-lee honey
Miller Molinaro moh-lih-NAH-roh miller
Peltier Pelliteri pell-ih-TAIR-ee furrier
Sebastian Sebastiani seh-bahs-tee-AH-nee  
Short Curto KOOR-toh short
Short Sciortino shor-TEE-noh  
Smith Ferraro fehr-AH-roh blacksmith
Spohn, Spoon Cucchiara
Cucchiaia
cook-YAR-uh
cook-YAH-yuh
spoon
Straw la Paglia la PAHL-yuh straw
Tramont Tramontana tra-moon-TAH-nuh north wind
Treat Territo tair-EE-toh  
Vincent DiVincenzo dee-vihn-CHAINZ-oh of Vincenzo
Yannello Iannello yahn-NELL-oh little John
Yucolano Iuculano yuke-oo-LAH-noh juggler
   
 
 
SICILIAN LINKS Sicilianit Is Sicily 'Italy'? The Sicilian Languge
Cognomi ~ Sicilian Surnames Ngiurii ~ Sicilian Nicknames Place-names as surnames Sicilian Coats of Arms
Foundlings The Sicilian Naming Convention
  Americanized

Given Names

/Surnames
Convert Latin given names to Sicilian
La Bedda Sicilia ~ My history of Sicily Heritage Path: original Sicilian records Civil Record Format ~ 1820 - 1910 I'm a Sicilian American
My Lectures on Sicilian Genealogy Sicilian Occupations in Civil Records Sicilian Records at the Buffalo FHC The Thing
 
 
       Read my book of historical fiction, The Lady of the Wheel, inspired by my experiences in Sicilian genealogical research.  It tells the story of foundlings and sulfur mine workers and life in their community of Racalmuto during the late 1800s in Sicily.  Interspersed in the tale are episodes derived from the real-life experiences of my family, which originated in the small Sicilian town of Serradifalco.

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Robertsdale, Pennsylvania

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