Pet name, endearment
According to Italian tradition, a first son was named after the father's father; a second, after the mother's father; a first daughter, after the father's mother; a second daughter, after the mother's mother; and other children after patron saints or other relatives.
When families were large and most relatives lived in the same village, there were a lot of Maria’s and Mario’s in a neighborhood. And so Italians used pet names (vezzeggiativi) or nicknames (soprannomi) to distinguish among them.
Some are simply diminuitivi, shorter forms of a given name, such as Vale for Valentina, Lele for Raffaele, Eli for Elisabetta, Tere for Teresa, Giachi for Giacomo, Pippo for Filippo or Cri for Cristina. In some regions Italians shorten names and add an accent on the final vowel to create an endearment used among friends and family: Valentina becomes Valentì, Valeria Valè, Alessandro Alessà, SilvanaSilvà, Roberto Robè. An alternative is to add a "y" instead of an accent to an abbreviated name, as in Silvy, Roby, Francy, Lucy, Dany, Gabry and Maddy.
Other endings, either in Italian or a dialect, transform a straightforward English name like Mary Ann into Marianna, Mariannina, Mariannedda, Mariannuzza and Mariannedduzza. Here are other variations on common Italian names:
*Giuseppe: Peppino, Beppe, Peppe, Peppuccio
*Giuseppina: Giusi, Pina, Pinetta
*Antonio: Tonino, Totò
*Stella: Stelluccia, Stellina
*Renzo: Renzetto, Renzuccio, Renzino
*Francesco: Checco, Cecco, Chicco
*Giovanni: Gio', Vanni, Vannino, Vanin , Nanni
*Giovanna: Nina, Vanna, Vanni
*Roberto: Robi , Roby, Bobo.
The Italian town of Chiogia near Venice, which has 8,000 Boscolos and 5,000 Tiozzos among its 52,000 citizens, recently won court approval to use vezzeggiativi e soprannomi on all legal documents. These include names that may not sound endearing but are used with great affection.
A skinny guy might become Grissino (Breadstick), Stecchino or Stuzzicadenti (Toothpick) or Stangone (Beanpole). A heavy fellow may be called Ciccione (Fatty), Palletto (Little Belly), Panzone or Pallone (Big Belly). or Botte (barrel). Dialect softens the sting of terms like Piezzuocchie (One-eyed), Nasecano (Dog Nose), Scugnato (Toothless) and Stuorto (Crooked).
Behavior or personality often inspire children's pet names, such as Saglienne (Climber) or Chiacchere (Chatterbox). A strong little boy may be called Ercolino (Little Hercules). When we were staying in Italy during my husband’s sabbatical, our young daughter earned a pet name of her own: Coccolona (Cuddly One).
My friend and blog consultant Valentina was such an active little girl that her parents called her Capretta (Little Goat). More recently her love for coffee inspird another nickname: Moka (for the Italian stove-top espresso maker). She calls her adorable son Julian (above) by a string of sobriquets, including Topolino (Little Mouse) and Polliciccio, a combination of the Italian for Tom Thumb and Ciccio, itself a common endearment.
Words and Expressions:
Fiorello -- Little Flower, for New York City’s former Mayor La Guardia.
La Cicciolina -- literally “cuddly,” the stage name for Anna Elena Staller, a Hungarian-born Italian politician, porn-star and singer
Lucianone -- affectionate name for “Big Luciano” Pavarotti
Dianne Hales is the author of La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.
Click below to listen to a famous song, Vattene Amore, which uses a cute pet name for an innamorato (loved one): trottolino amoroso (beloved little spinning top--something a restless child might also be called).