|Big Bellies butcher shop.|
While cruising through Italian streets and alleys, I love to look at and say aloud the names on the doorways. So many Italian names have a beautiful sound, and while not all of them have a meaning in today’s language, many of them do have meaning, or at least sound very close to words that have meaning. It is true that in English we have our Millers, Smiths and Sawyers, but Italian surnames are a hundred times more diverse, and I find them fascinating.
Acquistapace—Buy peace (perhaps a neighbor of the previously named)
Mangialaglio—Eat the garlic
Pelagatti—Skin cats (wonder if he knew more than one way)
So where do these crazy names come from? How could people give themselves such names, and why don’t they just change them? The story I most often hear is that many people didn’t have last names until the time of the Napoleonic occupation, when a census was taken and everyone had to have last names. The census takers could assign last names to people as they wished, and if somebody ticked off a census taker or didn’t pay a bribe, he could end up with a rotten surname. This sounds logical, and I’ve heard it from several sources, though not from any official historians, but it makes the most sense to me.
For more unusual names, see More bizzarri Italian names.