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Sofia and Francesco Are the New Maria and Antonio

By- Claudia Quesito

First names—and their evolution over time—often tell us something about a culture and a country. Let’s see how Italians name their babies, and what the trends are over the last few years. First of all, some facts: Italy has a very low birth rate. In 2018, only 439,747 babies were born, the lowest number since 1861 (the year when Italy was united). On average, Italian women have 1.35 babies each, and that’s a very low figure, even compared to other European countries. 

Traditionally, Italians have named their babies after their own relatives’ or after saints or religious figures. Especially in Southern Italy, it was customary—and still is, in rural areas or more traditional families—to name the first-born boy after the paternal grandfather or the patron saint of the birth day. If you happened to be born around Easter, chances are you would be named Pasquale, Pasqualina, or Pasqua. Same around Christmas—Natale, Natalina, Natalia. Sometimes babies were named after historical events or periods. After the many Benitos from the 1920s through the 1940s, there were many Italias, Liberos, and Liberas born in 1946, soon after WWII. 

Nowadays, most parents simply pick a name they like, but there are of course trends. After the Jessicas, Patricks, Samanthas, and Dylans of the ’80s and ’90s—inspired by soap operas or American TV series—at playgrounds today you hear a lot of “vintage” names, from Achille and Ettore to Zeno, Leone, Agata, Adele, and Lucrezia. 

According to the records, in 2018, the most popular names for baby boys were Francesco, Leonardo, Alessandro, Lorenzo, and Mattia. All of these are timeless, except Leonardo, which was unusual until the late ’90s, when it was permanently “normalized” by the movie Titanic’s lead actor. The most popular baby girl names are Sofia, Giulia, Aurora, Alice, and Ginevra. The last one is a new entry and it was extremely uncommon until very recently. It’s hard to say if the name choice is a mirror of the current social mood, but Italians seem to tend towards names that are not overly trendy, but not too traditional either. They seem to like stepping away from tradition—but not too much.

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