Nicknames: The diversity of Italy

We’ll report on the DMNES team’s trip to Bolzano in an upcoming post, but today we’re going to investigate Italy in a different way!

While Italy may not have the highest percentage of nicknames of the geographical areas that the Dictionary currently covers, but it definitely has the most diverse. While other cultures tend to form nicknames by either truncating names into hypocoristics or by adding a diminutive suffix, both practices are mixed indiscriminately in Italian names — a name can first be truncated into a hypocoristic form, then augmented with a diminutive suffix, and then truncated again, and maybe augmented again, to the point where tracing from a nickname back to its root form is an exciting, and sometimes impossible, task. For example, take Giovanni, the standard Florentine form of John. In data from Florence and environs between 1282 and 1532 [1], more than 20 different forms of this name can be found, most of the nicknames:

  • Simple hypocoristics: Nanni, Vanni
  • Simple diminutives: Gianaccimo, Giovannanto, Giovannino, Giovannozzo
  • Diminutives of hypocoristics/Hypocoristics of diminutives: Nozzo, Vaccino, Vaccio, Vannozzo, Vannino, Vannuccio
  • Diminutives of diminutives: Giovacchino

For example, Giovanni > Giovannozzo > Vannozzo > Nozzo, takes the root name, adds a diminutive suffix, truncates it, and truncates it again. Looking at any individual step, the path is clear: But looking at the first and the last, few people who don’t know the interim would believe that Nozzo is a nickname of Giovanni!

Another name which shows similar complexity in the construction of nicknames is Iacopo or Giacomo (Jacob). From Giacomo you can get to Giacomino, and from there to Mino. From Iacopo or Giacoppo, you can get to Iacopozzo and Coppo. Puccio is a hypocoristic of Iacopuccio, a diminutive. But the strangest nickname is one that doesn’t fall neatly into the hypocoristic/diminutive distinction we’ve bee working with: Lapo. It comes from Iacopo by truncating it and then changing the initial consonant/vowel cluster. From Lapo we then get Lapaccio, Lapaccino, Lapone, Lapuccio (a hypocoristic of which is again Puccio). Just as the route from Giovanni to Nozzo isn’t immediately obviously, neither is the route from Iacopo to Lapaccino!

Diminutives are generally straightforward to identify the root name of, since all they do is augment another name. Hypocoristics which are formed by cutting off the final part of the name are likewise relatively straightforward. But hypocoristics which are formed by cutting off the first syllable or two of a name often become impossible to identify the root name, for there are many possibilities. We mention two examples: Rigo and Bello. Rigo or Rico can be a hypocoristic of Arrigo, F(r)ederico, Rodrigo, etc., while Bello can either be a standalone name in its own right (from Latin bellus ‘beautiful, fair’) or a nickname of any name ending in -b- or -p- augmented by the diminutive suffix -ello, such as Jacobello or Spinalbello. Similar ambiguities show up on the feminine side; Bella can be a standalone name in its own right, or a hypocoristic of Jacobella (Jacoba), Isabella, Bellaflor, or any of other various names beginning with Bella-.

The diversity of Italian nicknames is also evidenced by the variety of diminutive suffixes which are in use — but we will save them for another post as they show up in French and Spanish as well, as they are ultimately from Latin. The month is drawing to a close and there is so much more left to explore — we may have to pick nicknames up again as a monthly topic in the New Year!


Notes

[1] Online Tratte of Office Holders 1282-1532 (Brown University, Rhode Island), http://www.stg.brown.edu/projects/tratte/.

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1 Comment

Filed under dictionary entries, monthly topic

One response to “Nicknames: The diversity of Italy

  1. Pingback: NAMES | Come, Rest a While

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