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.

         It's important to realize that the great majority of Sicilians and southern Italians, due to the restrictive social systems in those regions, were poor and illiterate.  Names were changed not only after immigration, but in 'the old country' itself.  Names were entered in official records by clerks.  Few records were signed by the actual participants. I have found that the huge preponderance of the records I have reviewed end with this statement or something similar: "This record was read to all those assembled, but is signed only by me [the official], the witnesses and the declarant having said that they are illiterate."  Since they were illiterate, their names were spelled by the clerk, and a different clerk for a different event could very well spell the name differently, with no 'correction' possible by the declarant. For example, 'Di Marco' in one record, and 'Dimarco' or even 'De Marco' in another.  If the spelling of names varied even in original Sicilian records, it should come as no surprise that sometimes the names of immigrants who couldn't read or write, and couldn't speak English, might be changed in their new country.

        But 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.  Their names on the manifests were as they were recorded in Sicily or Italy, on the travellers' official visas or passports.  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 properly pronounce or spell 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.  Others may have Anglicized their names to 'fit in' with a mostly Anglo-Saxon community.

        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.  

Womens' Surnames In Sicily and Italy, there is a phrase for "maiden name", though it is not often found in older records: it is "cognome da nubile". In civil records: Atti di Nascita, Pubblicazione, Matrimonio, Morte, Allegati, Diversi and Cittidinanze, form 1820 through 1910 and beyond, I have never seen the phrase "cognome da nubile".   Both male and female children received their father's surname at birth, or in the case of foundlings, were given a concocted surname by the authorities.  However, whether male or female, unless the surname was officially changed for some reason (not including marriage) it was their surname for life.
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Thus, a Sicilian woman's name is her name, period. The surname on her birth record, her marriage record, the birth records of her children, her death record, and her headstone are all the same: her name. If a married woman emigrated, the surname on her passport and her passenger manifest were the same: her name. If she had her children with her, their surnames would be listed as their father's surname, she would have her own surname.
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This is a way to determine a woman's surname if you don't know it. Search passenger manifests for her accompanying children by their father's surname; hers will appear above theirs. Be forewarned that sometimes the child's surname is not written in, and indexers unfamiliar with this tradition index them under their mother's surname. 
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In Sicily, if for some reason a woman's husband's surname was given, it would be in this form: 'Rosa Alessi in Coniglio', meaning "the woman born Rosa Alessi, who is married to Mr. Coniglio". In the U. S. we use the French style, 'Rosa Coniglio neč Alessi' meaning "Rosa Coniglio, who was born Rosa Alessi".


"Di" names: Many surnames have the prefix "di" or "Di"Contrary to popular legend, while some "Di" surnames may be borne by descendants of nobility, the overwhelming occurrence of such names has nothing to do with noble ancestors.
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The Italian word "di" means "of" or "from", as in "John, son of a person" or "John, from a place".  I'll use Dipietro  as an example.  This surname probably started when a man with the given name Pietro had a son who was called, say, "Giovanni, son of Pietro".  That is, Giovanni di Pietro.  That became Giovanni's surname, and when he had sons, rather than "di Giovanni", they also took the surname di Pietro (just as all persons named Peterson are not necessarily the son of a man named Peter).   Other surnames might also be treated this way.  Established surnames might be preceded by "de", "di", "Di", etc.
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Early church records often recorded a person, for example, as "Joannes de familia Petrus", that is, "Giovanni of the family of Pietro".  This form was generally was shortened to simply "Joannes de Petrus" that is, they recorded the surname as de Petrus or di Petrus, which in Italian became di Pietro. Then it might be modified to Di Pietro (note the space, there is always a space between surname elements in Sicilian and Italian records), and then clerks may have begun to write it simply Dipietro.  They are all essentially the same surname, and there are many cases where two siblings born years apart to the same parents have had their names recorded differently.
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When searching for such names in original indices, note that they may have been alphabetized under the "D" for "Di Pietro" or "Dipietro"; or they could be under the "P" for "Pietro, di".
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Early church records may have used the Latin word "de" (pronounced "day"), which means the same as "di", however "di" is pronounced "dee".  "De" occurs more often in mainland and northern Italy, while in Sicily in civil records, "di" is most common.   In the U. S. these surnames often morph to DePietro or Depietro because English speakers think the "dee" sound should be spelled "de".  Another modified usage is to spell the name DiPietro, but in Italy and Sicily, as previously noted, there is always a space: Di Pietro.  Some "Di" names are separated in modern records; some like Difrancesco and Divincenzo are regularly written as a single word.
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When the "di/Di" appears before a name beginning with a vowel, it is contracted to d' or D', as in D'Angelo, D'Antonio, D'Alba, D'Auria, D'Amico, etc.  Note that the prefix does NOT add a syllable to the names: for example, D'Angelo is NOT pronounced "dee-AHN-jel-oh", but "DAHN-jel-oh".
 
"Lo" names: Many surnames have the prefix "lo" or "Lo"; or the feminine forms "la" or "La" and the plural form "li". The Italian word "lo/la/li" means "the".  An example is lo Monaco, which means "the Monk".  A similar surname is la Monica, meaning "the Nun".
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This is a surname that probably started as simply "Monaco", an ngiuria or nickname for a "monkish" man, then progressed to lo Monaco, Lo Monaco and Lomonaco.

Examples of "Lo" names are Lo Tempio (the temple, for a person living near one), La Fornara (the baker), La Mendola (the almond), Lo Porto (the gate), Lo Curto (the short one), Li Calsi (the trousers), Li Sacchi (the sacks).

       The articles "di" and "lo" were often originally used as identifiers and not necessarily meant to be part of the surname, especially in Latin church records.  A surname written as "di Messina" could mean "of the family surnamed Messina"; "d'Alessi" meant "of the Alessi family", etc. Again, sometimes these might retain the prefix, but often they were dropped, as in Messina and Alessi.  Similarly, "lo Galbo" could mean "the Galbo man", etc.  It should be noted, when searching for persons with such surnames in original Sicilian records: the original indices may list them by either element.  That is, for example, Di Giugno could be listed under "D", OR under "G" as "Giugno, di". Similarly, Lo Tempio could be listed under "L", or under "T", as "Tempio, lo", and so on.

       These are not 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 SURNAMES

Sicilian/Italian to English

Italian/
Sicilian

Pronunciation

Meaning

American Versions

Alessi ah-LEH-see Alex Lacey
d'Angelo DAHN-jel-oh of Angelo DiAngelo, Angelo
d'Antonio dahn-TOH-nee-oh of Antonio DiAntonio, 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
Costantino koh-stahn-TEE-noh Constantine Constantino
Cucchiara
Cucchiaia
cook-YAR-uh
cook-YAH-yuh
spoon Spoon, Spohn
lo Curto KOOR-toh short Short
Difrancesco dee-frahn-CHEH-skoh of Francesco Frank, Franks
Ferrantino fehr-ahn-TEE-noh   Farrington
Ferraro fehr-AH-roh blacksmith Smith
Ganci GAHN-chee hook Gangi
di Giacomo dee JOCK-oh-moh son of Giacomo DiJames, James
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
di Giugno dee-JOON-yoo born in June DiJune, June
Iannello yahn-NELL-oh little John Yannello
Ingrao in-GRAH-oh   Angros
Iuculano yuke-oo-LAH-noh juggler Yucolano
la Monica lah MAHN-ih-kuh the nun Lamonica
li Sacchi lih SAH-kee the sacks Sack
lo Monaco loh MOHN-ah-koh the monk Lomonaco
Maniscalco mah-niss-KAHL-koh blacksmith Maniscalco
Martino mar-TEE-noh   Martin
Mele MAY-lee honey Mayle
Molinaro moh-lih-NAH-roh miller Miller
la Paglia la PAHL-yuh straw Straw
Di Pietro dee pee-EH-troh Peter Peters
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 Versions

Italian/
Sicilian

Pronunciation

Meaning

Angros Ingrao in-GRAH-oh  
Angelo, DiAngelo d'Angelo DAHN-jel-oh of Angelo
Anthony, DiAntonio 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  
Frank, Franks Difrancesco dee-frahn-CHEH-skoh of Francesco
Gangi Ganci GAHN-chee hook
Gelia Giglia JEEL-yuh lily
George, DiGeorge di Giorgio dee GEORGE-oh of Giorgio
James, DiJames di Giacomo
di Vincenzo
dee JOCK-oh-moh
dee vihn-CHAINZ-oh
of Giacomo
of Vincenzo
Jerrytone Giarratano jar-uh-TAHN-oh from Giarra
John, DiJohn di Giovanni dee-joh-VAHN-ee of Giovanni
Jordan Giordano jor-DAH-noh  
June, DiJune di Giugno dee-JOON-yoo born in June
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
Peters, Peterson Di Pietro dee pee-EH-troh of Pietro
Sack li Sacchi lih SAH-kee the sacks
Sebastian Sebastiani seh-bahs-tee-AH-nee  
Short Curto KOOR-toh short
Short Sciortino shor-TEE-noh  
Smith Ferraro
Maniscalco
fehr-AH-roh
mah-niss-KAHL-koh
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 Sicilianitŕ 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 Orphans, Illegitimates, and Foundlings
Li Carusi ~ The Mine-boys Shortened Sicilian Given Names There is no letter "j" in Sicilian The Thing
  Womens' Surnames Masculine and Feminine Names  
 
 
 

The Lady of the Wheel (La Ruotaia) is my first book, inspired by my genealogical research of Sicilian families.  It's a historical novella about foundlings and sulfur mine workers in the 1860's in Racalmuto, a town in central Sicily.

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Robertsdale, Pennsylvania

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