I apologize in advance to my Italian readers who may find this post terribly cliché or just simple-minded on my part. But this is one of those things that, as an American and an outsider, I find both endlessly entertaining and somehow frustrating.
Something that absolutely cracks me up in Milan is the way American names have been used to name streets. Two examples come immediately to mind. Via Giorgio Washington and Via Tommaso Edison. Yes, you read that correctly. Giorgio and Tommaso—both great Americans. Apparently it was the tradition before the internet turned us all into citizens of a very polyglotty world, to call foreigners by the combination of their Italian-ized given name and their actual family name. That makes me Carlotta, a name which I like, but which doesn’t in the least fit who I actually am.
(NOTE: Italians don’t actually force the name Carlotta onto me, but they do struggle a bit with the pronunciation of Charlotte. The way we Anglo-saxons swallow the second syllable just isn’t easy for an Italian to do. Every syllable is important and plays a part in their musical language. So I get called Char-LOT quite, well, a lot. Or CHAR-LOT, where the syllables bear equal weight and the “char” comes out as it would in the word char-broiled. Such is life.)
But back to the amusement at hand. The illustrious gentlemen above, aside from the Giorgio and the Tommaso I’ve already mentioned, would therefore have been called Andrea Jackson, Abramo Lincoln, and Alessandro Hamilton. Some of your names, in case you’re curious, are as follows:
Janet – Gianna
Suzi – Susi (short for Susanna)
Anne – Anna and Anne – Anna
John – Gianni
Diane, Diana – Diana (with the i being pronounced like a long e)
Cecilia – Cecilia (except those c’s are pronounced ch)
Michele – Micaela
Daniel – Daniele (and that nickname, Catfish, would be “pesce gatto”)
Judith – Giuditta
Ginger – Zenzero (this is a direct translation, using the word for the spicy root, but this name doesn’t exist in Italian…
…which leads me to another peculiarity of Italian naming. If I’ve understood correctly, you can’t just go off and, like Frank Zappa, choose Moon Unit for a name. Or Spike. Or Edge. You have to petition for the right to do so. I have an Italian friend who wanted to name her daughter Andrea, even though it’s considered a boy’s name, because she liked the sound of it. To hear her tell it, there was no end to the bureaucracy involved, and fortunately, she was victorious in the end. (Maybe things have changed. I humbly invite any Italian readers to correct me on this.)
I can’t blame her for undertaking the struggle. I’ve always found the pool of Italian names limiting—all being connected more or less to saints (though there was a spike in the 70’s in the use of names, such as Kevin, which were made popular by American TV shows). Being a Southerner, I miss the use of last names as first names. It was lovely growing up surrounded by strong, interesting women named Nelson and Wallis. It’s hard to get enthusiastic about and-yet-another Francesca no matter how lovely a person she may be, and then there’s the problem of how to keep them all straight. Which Francesca is on the other end of the phone saying, “Hi, it’s me, Francesca”?
Sometimes I like the Italian version of a name better than I like the English one, and vice versa. I like William, but I’m not crazy about Guglielmo. I don’t love Hilary, but I think Ilaria is a spectacular name. And so it goes. If you’d like to have your name or user name translated, let me know. I’d love to try!