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Sunday, September 4, 2011

What's in a name?

My son (Dominic) and his wife (not named Dominic) is about to present me with another grandchild in November. My first grandchild, Dominic, is absolutely amazing! Now my dad, Dominic, and I, Dominick ( did you notice the slight change in spelling?) happened to like the name Dominic (or Dominick) as you can imagine. So far there has been 4 generations of Mainos in the USA named Dominic. 
Now, here's the confusing part....what do we name the next grandchild....who we happen to know will be a boy? I have suggested the name, Dominic...but only received a smile as a response from my son and daughter-in-law.
Over the last couple of years, I've tried to get back to my Italian roots. Sometimes not quite getting to where I wanted to be (trying to learn Italian is going to take a bit more effort) to using my Italian genes to help me be an artists (a great deal more success here...I've exhibited my photography in several venues including in the Chandelier Room of Casa Italia in Stone Park, Il and singing opera (tenor) with outstanding performers from the New york Met and Chicago Lyric Opera Houses.)
As I embrace my heritage, I was wondering if I could find out more about naming conventions used in Italy. Here's what I found out....BTW...the story the author tells here about "Nick" also happens in my household....when someone calls out the name Dominic!
It's a boy! But what's his name?
Well it has been an exciting week in the Monolo house with a brand new baby boy arriving a couple of days early. Our second grandchild, perfect in every way just like his older sister, Adriana. We all wondered what our new grandson's name would be but it was top secret -- probably to avoid nine months of family pressure.

Our family has loosely continued the Italian naming conventions, particularly with the boys, but that has led to some confusion, just as I'm sure is the case in Italy. We often joke about the time that my brother's girlfriend was in an accident on the way to a family wedding reception. Someone went to the microphone and asked that Nick Tropea please step into the lobby for a message -- and half the room emptied out. That is a slight exaggeration but the point is clear. In my father's family of 11 children, with most of the oldest sons of those eleven being named Nicholas, Nicola, Nicolino or some such version, it does get out of hand.

Italian naming patterns are typical of other European countries but the large Italian families contributed to the chaos. I am told that this confusion is what led to the endearing Italian practice of assigning nicknames, soprannomi, to everyone.

The naming practice has also wreaked havoc with genealogists who could get thrown off to a completely different line by finding the birth record of an uncle's son, just months off of the real Giuseppe they really seek. I almost fell into the same trap when tracking my grandmother's birth record, finding her cousin's first and wanting to believe the elusive record was discovered. While the Italian naming traditions complicate things, at least when armed with the information, one is better equipped to avoid squirreling up the family tree.

On the positive side, it kept life simple, decisions were fewer, structure decreased anxiety. Just pull out the chart and your child's name is determined -- at least for the first few:
  • a. the first male is named after his paternal grandfather
  • b. the second male is named after his maternal grandfather
  • c. the first female is named after her paternal grandmother
  • d. the second female is named after her maternal grandmother


After that, anything goes and the pressure is on though there were still guidelines. Subsequent children would be named after parents, a favorite aunt or uncle, a saint or a deceased sibling or other relative.

Coming to America meant breaking tradition to some. I interviewed the president of the Italian Club of St. Louis last evening for our "Chi Sono, Chi Siamo" project and learned that his mother, enamored with films, named each of her five children after movie stars, while an earlier interviewee said her siblings were named after opera characters.

So our big announcement finally came. He will be called Hudson Joseph. At least we got one family name in there. Cent'anni, Sonny. Ti voglio bene. 


Debbie Monolo writing in Fra Noi

OK...so even if my next grandchild's name is not Dominic, it appears that we are following Italian tradition. My son (Dominic) and his wife (again not named Dominic) will name the new arrival, Vincenzo (Vincent). His middle name, however, will be that of his paternal grandfather. 


As an aside, I should mention that my since Italians had so many individuals with the same name, they often gave nick names. This tradition is not only followed by Italians however. My wife is Puerto Rican...they also assign nicknames to family members....often more than one. When I first dated her, I could never figure out if she had 30 brothers and sisters...or only 7. I am sad to report however....that there wasn't a Dominic among them...perhaps some day! DM

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