I don’t know if I ever told you the ‘names’ stories and quite honestly I think those stories are more fun when told in person. I once entertained a large group of people with those stories – I had ’em rolling in the aisles. Or since this was at a backyard bbq/pool party – had ’em rolling in the grass…

Anyway, for  years I wanted to know my maternal great-grandmother’s name. I never thought to ask my mother – stupid me. I had a session with a medium and he said that she said, I could call her ‘Grace”. That sound a little odd to me because her daughter, my grandmother was originally named ‘Grazia” and I was named for my grandmother.

Italians, or at least the Italians I grew up around named the kids this way; first son after the father’s father; first daughter after the mother’s mother; second son after the mother’s father and so on. You get the idea. Many times the middle name was after the other grandparent. There was also the tradition of naming the first son after the father leading to many ‘juniors’. I don’t know the thinking behind that one – it only appeared on the maternal side of the family.

Anyway, I recently discovered that my maternal great-grandmother’s name was Josephine Grace Vullo – that’s the way it showed up in census records, obviously since she was from Italy that is the English version. Which means she used her middle name for her daughter; actually there is no Italian word for the personal name ‘Grace”. It is most used as ‘Graziella’ which is considered a nickname. Are you confused yet?  ‘Grazia’ would also be a nickname for ‘Graziella’ and my grandmother shows up in the records as “Grazia”.

It doesn’t really matter what my grandmother’s birth name was because she changed it to Frances because the kids teased her about her Italian name.


On my father’s side of the family, his name is pretty straight forward, Gennaro, named after his paternal grandfather but his sisters are another story. I know what they were called in English and the census records show their English names but their ‘real’ names are a mystery to me.  I could go to New York City and access their birth certificates to satisfy my curiosity, it would so be worth the trip.

One of my father’s sisters, born in 1908, was called ‘Jean’, sometimes ‘Jennie’ – her real name? who knows. BUT BUT BUT…

My niece started a family tree on Ancestry and entered my Aunt Jean’s name as ‘Jennifer’. Jennifer? Seriously? In what universe does she think that immigrant Italians in 1908 would name a daughter Jennifer? THIS ANNOYS THE CRAP OUT OF ME.

Jean could be the Americanization of “Giovanna” which is the feminine form of Giovanni which is John. And since my grandfather’s name was Giovanni/John perhaps that was the original name. There is a convoluted way back to Jennifer – from the Cornish Guinevere which is, maybe, Ginevra in Italian which could become Jean but Eugenia could also be ‘Jean’ or ‘Jennie’.

Plus there is no “J” in the Italian alphabet. ‘J’ is only used in loanwords and foreign names.  In 1908 – with all the other children given Italian names do you seriously think Italian immigrant peasants were using the name Jennifer? It wasn’t even a popular American name at the time. Sheesh.

And here endeth today’s rant.

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