Padua - Signor Rossi, the longstanding "Mr. Jones" of Italy has been replaced by Signor Russo. According to a new study of the prevalence of Italian names, "Russo" - which originally referred to red hair and red beard - is the most common surname across the country. But perhaps more noteworthy is the growing popularity of names on the Italian peninsula like Singh, Hu and Fatnassi, evidence of unprecedented immigration over the past two decades.
With its origins in southern Italy, Russo today comes in first in Sicily and second in the regions of Campania and Puglia. And yet, thanks to 20th century internal south-to-north 20th century migration, the name is also in the top three in Turin, ousting the typical Piedmont family name: Ferrero. Russo also comes in fifth in Novara and sixth in Milan, 12th in Genoa, and fifth in Rome.
As for Rossi, which is virtually non-existent in the south, "it does not represent Italy any more," explains Enzo Caffarelli, a professor of Onomastics at Tor Vergata University in Rome and the author of the study "Italians in the 21st century," commissioned by the National Association of Italian Cities, and presented earlier this month in Padua.
The study showed the notable increase of southern names in the center-north 40 years after the massive northward emigration that helped reshape Italy. Russo is one of them, but Esposito is also now 12th in both Turin and Milan.
But perhaps the most significant novelty in the survey is the presence of non-Italian surnames across the country. Singh, a typical Indian and Pakistani surname, is the most common in the northern city of Brescia. To that, one should add Kaur, the name usually carried by women of the same origin.
The Tunisian name Fatnassi comes in second in the northwestern city of Imperia and Singhalese names Fernando and Warnakulasuriya come in 14th and 22nd in Verona. The dynamics often follow the logic of industry: in the city of Vincenza, for instance, there is no trace of non-Italian names in the Top 100, but in the industrial center of Montecchio there are 11.
In Milan, two foreign surnames, both Chinese, are in the Top Ten: Hu is fourth, and Chen is 10th. Hu is also in the Top Ten in Turin, and in the Top 12 in Brescia.
Foreign names, which are expected to multiply in the future, have created some new challenges for clerks at the registry office. You have the patronymic "chains" of Arab citizens, who keep the name of their father, their grandfather and their great-grandfather. In these cases, clerks tend to "simplify" names.
Spanish and Portuguese residents are entitled to keep their double surname. In other cases, you end up with the "abolition of diacritical marks" (e. g. giving up accents) as well as dropping the specific declension for women's surnames from Eastern Europe. It also happens that a young girl of Pakistani descent legally has to bear the name of her father: instead of being named Princess (Kaur), she will be given the name of Singh, which means Lion.