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Angelo is the Italian form of the Latin name Angelus, meaning “angel”. The Angelus is a Christian devotion, which traditionally involves praying three times a day, accompanied by the the ringing of church bells. It was common during the Middle Ages, so the name can be seen as after the prayer as much as after the heavenly creature. Angels are mentioned in the Old Testament as spiritual beings who bring communications from God; the word angel is derived from the Greek for “messenger”. Angels play a much bigger role in the New Testament, where they make several important announcements, including the birth and resurrection of Christ. A famous Italian named Angelo was Father Angelo Secchi, a 19th century astronomer and one of the first scientists to state that the sun is a star. Cricket fans know the name well from Angelo Matthews, the Sri Lankan captain. The name is rarely used in Australia, where angel-type names for boys aren’t common – even though angels are traditionally masculine. However, singer Adele welcomed a baby boy last year, rumoured to be named Angelo, and this may be a help. The Italian and English pronunciation are very similar – AHN-jel-oh and AN-jel-oh.
Dante is a short form of Durante, the Italian form of the Latin name Durans, meaning “enduring”. Its most famous namesake is undoubtedly medieval Italian poet, Dante degli Alighieri, nearly always known by his first name only. His Divine Comedy is considered the greatest work of Italian literature, and in Italy he is known as il Poeto (“the Poet”), just as Shakespeare is called The Bard in England. He is famous for his adoration of Beatrice, a girl he knew only slightly and who died in her twenties; he plays an important role in the literature of “courtly love”. Dante is a name which seems to be gaining more use in recent years, perhaps because of the number of fictional characters named Dante on TV and in video games. I see this handsome name quite a bit in birth notices, and have met a number of small boys named Dante, from a variety of backgrounds. The Italian pronunciation is DAHN-tay, and this is commonly used in Australia, but I have heard it said DAN-tay as well.
Eduardo is the Italian form of the English name Edward. The name is used in Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries as well, where it is much more popular than in Italy – it is a Top 100 name in Spain and Chile. Famous Italians include actor, playwright and screenwriter Eduardo De Filippo; songwriter Eduardo di Capua, who composed the famous song O Sole Mio; and quantum physicist and cyberneticist Eduardo Caianiello (all these Eduardos were from Naples). The name is pronounced ed-WARD-oh, with the ward part rhyming with hard rather than horde. Last year, Australian soccer player Vince Grella welcomed a son named Eduardo, and so far it’s the only celebrity baby boy’s name which has been rated as “perfect” by blog readers.
Lorenzo is the Italian form of the Roman name Laurentius, which means “from Laurentum”; Laurentum was an ancient city in Italy, south of Rome, and its name probably comes from the laurel, or bay tree. Laurel wreaths were used by the Romans as a symbol of victory. The English form of the name is Laurence. One of the most famous Italian namesakes is Lorenzo de Medici, known as Lorenzo the Magnificent. A Florentine ruler during the Renaissance, he was famed for presiding over Florence’s Golden Age, and for being a great patron of the arts. Lorenzo’s grandson also bore his name; he is best known for being the ruler to whom Machiavelli dedicated his practical political handbook, The Prince. Lorenzo has been in the Top 5 in Italy for several years, and is currently #4; it’s also Top 100 in France. The Italian pronunciation is loh-REN-tso, and in English it’s pretty much the same except we say the final syllable -zo. Reality TV star Snooki, from Jersey Shore, welcomed a baby boy named Lorenzo last year. Possible nicknames include Enzo, Ren, Renzo and Zo.
Luca is the Italian equivalent of the name Luke, derived from the Greek name Loukas, meaning “from Lucania”. Lucania was an ancient district of southern Italy, and the name comes from the tribe of the Lucani who inhabited the area. One theory is that the tribe’s name comes from the Greek word for “wolf”; another that it means “sacred wood” in Latin. A famous Italian with this name is medieval sculptor Luca della Robbia; another is Fra Luca de Pacioli, a mathematician and Franciscan friar who worked with Leonardo da Vinci. You may also know the name from Luca Cordero di Montezemolo who is chairman of Ferrari. Luca is incredibly popular internationally: it is #12 in Italy, and also makes the Top 100 in the UK, Scotland, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and France. It has charted in Australia since the 1980s, and joined the Top 100 in the late 2000s; currently it is #79. You will sometimes see Luca described as a unisex name, and that’s because it is also the Hungarian form of Lucia, and is #10 for girls in Hungary. However, the two names are pronounced differently – the Italian boy’s name is said LOO-kah, while the Hungarian girl’s name is said LOO-tsah.
Massimo is the Italian form of Maximus, a Roman family name derived from the Latin for “greatest”. There is a very old and noble Roman family named Massimo, and they claim to be descended from the Maximi family of ancient Rome, including the famous general Fabius Maximus. This cannot be proven, as the family history only goes back about a thousand years, but what’s on the record is impressive enough. Extremely rich and influential, great patrons of the arts, they have produced numerous cardinals, ambassadors, politicians and military leaders, and have married into some of the most important royal houses of Europe, so that the family now bears a princely title. Massimo is one of the most common Italian boy’s names I see in birth notices, with Massi the usual nickname. It is pronounced mahs-SEE-mo.
Orlando is the Italian form of Roland, a Germanic name meaning “famous land” or perhaps “fame of his country”. According to history, Roland was a Frankish military commander in Charlemagne’s army, responsible for defending France against the Bretons; he died in a skirmish against the Basques after Charlemagne was defeated in a battle against Islamic forces. His death must have captured people’s imaginations, because while history says very little about Roland, legend says much. His life became an epic drama about a great nobleman of royal blood who dies in battle, defending his land and faith from Muslims. Just in case this seemed a bit tame, legend gave him a magic sword and threw in a giant, and the story was a massive medieval minstrel-sung hit all across western Europe. In Italy, he not only appears in Dante’s Divine Comedy, but starred in a whole line of epics as Orlando. The most famous of these is Orlando Furioso (it basically means Crazy Orlando) by Ludovico Ariosto. As the title suggests, Orlando goes doolally from unrequited love of a pagan princess and gallops around the world in a frenzy. There’s wizards and hippogriffs and sea monsters and a trip to the moon involved, and the story was hugely influential in European literature. We know this name well from actor Orlando Bloom, married to Miranda Kerr, and since their wedding I see this attractive name regularly in birth notices. The Italian pronunciation is or-LAHN-do, and the English or-LAND-oh.
Saint Rocco is an Italian saint who was born a nobleman but came to Rome on a pilgrimage. Turning up while the city was suffering from a plague, he spent his time tending the sick. When he succumbed himself, he was banished from populated areas, but miraculously provided with water, and a dog who brought him food and licked his wounds, which cured him. Returning home, he was thrown into prison as a spy and died, refusing to reveal his noble identity. However, he was recognised by a cross-shaped birthmark, and canonised as a saint by popular acclaim. When the Black Death swept through Europe, it was said that this plague could be averted by praying to Saint Rocco, and when a town was apparently spared in this manner, his popularity went through the roof. Although his cult had begun in northern Italy, it soon spread across Europe; in France his name became Roch, in Spain Roque, and in England, Rock. You’d be forgiven for thinking Rocco had something to do with rocks, but it’s an ancient Germanic name meaning “rest”, and pronounced ROK-ko. Even though the Black Death isn’t such a worry any more, Saint Rocco is still popular as a healer of the sick and patron of dogs. Rocco has charted in Australia since the 1940s, hitting a peak in the 1960s at #193. Since the early 2000s, when Madonna welcomed her son Rocco, it has been climbing steeply and is currently #228. Expect to hear more of this cute yet macho name in the future.
Romeo is the Italian form of the Latin name Romaeus, meaning “pilgrim to Rome”. When we hear the name Romeo, we think of the young and ardent lover from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, whose pubescent romance goes so tragically wrong. Shakespeare’s plot wasn’t original – he based it on retellings of 16th century Italian romances, and in turn, these used the story of Pyramus and Thisbe from Roman mythology as inspiration. However, one of the Italian authors, Luigi Da Porto, fell for an enchanting young woman at a ball and she returned his feelings; things never got off the ground because their families were feuding. By the time he had the chance to write about Romeus and Giulietta in Verona, the object of his desire had been married off to someone else. His version of the story, including the principals’ names, proved enduring – perhaps because it had the personal touches of someone who has loved and lost. Romeo is such an ultra-romantic name that it’s used as an epithet for any male lover. David and Victoria Beckham welcomed their son Romeo in 2002, giving this name some star appeal as well. We say it RO-mee-oh, but we know the Italian pronunciation of ro-MAY-oh from the car manufacture, Alfa Romeo.
Valentino is the Italian form of the Latin name name Valentinus, the saint of lovers, also called Valentine. It got an extra helping of Latin Loverboyishess from Italian actor Rudolph Valentino, a seductive sex symbol and star of the silent screen. He made women swoon, and men snipe at his annoying amount of attractiveness. The gals screamed with desire during his movies; the guys stormed out in disgust and threw hissy fits. We know the name well from Italian motorcycle racer and MotoGP World Champion, Valentino Rossi, giving this name quite a sporty image as well. I don’t know if it’s because of Rossi, but I do see the name Valentino quite often in birth notices, where it seems to be especially popular in the middle position.
(Picture shows scene from Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet)