view of Salandra, Matera, Basilicata, Italy by Antonio DiPersia

Friday, May 17, 2013

Italian Naming Customs

Why does it seem like half the males in the Ambruso Family, including the Hartford and Philly branches, are named Michael?  In my own branch, the rest of the people seem to be named either Rocco or Esther.  Was there a lack of naming creativity?  No, the answer is strict naming conventions or naming customs followed by Italians, and more specifically southern Italians, when naming their children. 
The formula goes as follows:
  • The first son was given the first name of his paternal grandfather
  • The first daughter was given the first name of her paternal grandmother
  • The second son was given the name of his maternal grandfather
  • The second daughter was given the name of her maternal grandmother
Any children after that were named in honor of special relatives or patron saints.  With rare exceptions, the Ambruso family followed this naming convention very strictly all during the 19th century and well into the 20th century. 
This custom is a boon to genealogists.  It provides clues which help in making links to past generations.  It also explains why the name Esther is so prevalent in my branch of the family.  My great grandmother's name wasPasquarosa Corrado.  She was named after her maternal grandmother.  Pasquarosa was not a common name.  The name literally means: “Easter Rose”.  It was Americanized to Esther Rose.  There was an Esther or a Rose in every family of Rocco and Pasquarosa’s children, where there was a granddaughter born.  My mother’s name was Esther Rose.


  1. Our aunt, Esther (Saraco) Canney is also named Esther Rose.

  2. Esther Iula made a comment about this naming custom. She says her husband Vince would always say Esther!at family reunions just to see three Esthers lift up their heads.

    She also told me a story about her brother Frankie (Frank Iula). She says he never changed calendars no matter the year. One time she wrote on his calendar " Dear brother, God bless you. You're always in my prayers. Love your little sister, Esther". After Frankie died, they found the note still on his calendar. Esther still keeps the note.