|This photo is from 2002, when his name was still Puzzovivo.|
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
More bizzarri Italian names
Two years ago, I wrote a blog entry about some of the interesting surnames in Italy: A Pazzi by any other name. It’s widely known that Italians are famous for giving each other nicknames. However, I still marvel at how people would officially allow themselves to be called by some of these strange or insulting names. I understand that if someone has been assigned a name at birth, it is difficult to have it formally changed, but what about the first person who received the embarrassing nickname? Didn’t he have a chance to protest when the priest wrote his name in the record book, or the town official recorded it in the census?
I guess there’s no way to know how this worked, but I decide to see if Elena has any ideas. No, she doesn’t know how these unusual names came about either, but she does have a new name to add to my list. There is a well known bicycle racer named Domenico Pozzovivo who was allowed to change his name from Puzzovivo. Puzzo means stink or stinky; vivo means alive, so before the change, his name might have been translated as live stinky or live stinkiness. Even though his name change was approved by the Italian courts (a pozzo is a water well), the rest of his family retains the old stinky name.
This discovery prompts me to look up a few more names, which is easy to do by using Google Translate, Facebook and the Italian white pages, paginebianche.it. I could probably do a better job if I knew more insulting Italian slang words, but here are the unusual ones I have found:
Puzzo: just plain stinky
Bruttone: big and ugly
Pazzoni: little crazy ones
Canaglia: rogue, scoundrel, rascal
In fact, when I type the word rascal into Google Translate, I come up with many other definitions, including mascalzone, farabutto, briccone, furfante, birbante and monello. I find Italians named Mascalzone and Monello, which I think are milder version of rascal or brat, but not Farabutto, Briccone, Birbante or Furfante, which are more insulting and may also mean crook, rogue or scoundrel. I do find a few people in Catania named Salva’Birbante, which could be someone who saves scoundrels, maybe by hiding them away or leading them to safety.
Now it occurs to me that some British people have strange last names too, so I look in the United Kingdom directory and find the following surnames: Piggs, Joker, Bonefat, Greedy, Jelly, Nutters, Rattlebag, Cornfoot, Bracegirdle, Titcomb, Smellie, Brat and Pigfat. Apparently, having an unusual name is not just an Italian phenomenon after all; the situation is more widespread than I’ve realized. However, I have come up with a great solution: All the Italians with strange surnames could swap homes with all the unusually named people from England. If Mister Smellie traded with Signor Puzzo, most people wouldn’t know what their names meant, and they could avoid a lot of snickers and smirks from the Buffoni and the Jokers.