2000, Jane Papa


I am writing in response to IGSA's request (in the Winter 1998 issue of Lo Specchio) for observations on family naming patterns, which was printed at the end of an article my Michael Faletra on the custom of using middle names instead of first names. 

One often reads of the Italian custom of naming a first-born son for his father's father (the child's paternal grandfather), a second-born son for the mother's father, a first-born daughter for her father's mother, a second-born daughter for the mother's mother. etc. Personal observation has shown me that this pattern was quite rigidly adhered to by my husband's family, which come from Gaeta (Latina Province, Lazio Region) both in Italy and in this country (which changes beginning in the generation born here in the 1940s). the same could be said for his extended family and families of friends from Gaeta. I am not sure whether I have ever seen it written that Greek families (and many Greek American families) also strictly follow this pattern. In any case, this pattern of naming children could be described as the norm for Italian families. But in my research of my own Italian ancestors' lives I have found an entirely different situation. 

Having made extremely extensive use of LDS microfilms of vital records from the town of Morano Calabro, Province of Cosenza, Calabria, I can claim that I have never seen a record of a child of that town named for his or her grandparents while that person was alive. Often a second or later son will have the grandfather's name; when that has been the case I have always found the grandfather's death record in the time preceding the birth of the child named for him but after the birth of an older son who was not given the grandfather's name. Further, children are often named for relatives other than the grandparents whose death has occurred relatively recently with respect to their birth. Thus a child might be named for her mother's recently deceased sister or aunt, etc. Often babies were named for older deceased siblings (a common enough practice among all Italians, I read.), but in Morano they might also be named for recently deceased cousins. If one looks closely one can also spot cross-gender naming patterns in this town (always for a deceased relatives), accounting for a lot of Nicolina's, Antonia's, etc. And of course there were never "juniors" but I have seen cases of boys being born to father's posthumously being given their father's name. And I don't find girls named for grandmothers with any degree of consistency, even when the grandmother has died before the baby's birth. By way of clearly distinguishing this naming pattern from the "norm" I describe in the first section I must state the fact that people from Gaeta are consistently named for grandparents without regard to the person's status. My husband and two of his first cousins were named for the same grandfather while he was still alive and perfectly healthy.

All of this describes a naming pattern remarkably similar to the one followed by Jewish families. I have read where some people find the heritage of the once extensive Calabrian Jewish community making itself subtlety known among the non-Jewish population in Calabria even today. I often wonder if this might be an example.

NOTE: I have not supplied documentation of my findings within the above article, but of course I would do so if anyone were interested. Just let me know.

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