ROME — Lo Chiameranno Andrea ("We'll Call Him Andrea") is the name of a famous film by Vittorio De Sica, where two elementary school teachers who yearn for but are unable to have a child, compensate by giving him this hypothetical name. It was 1972 and the male name Andrea represented the essence of Italy, the most common in a country of emigrants, of cultural changes and solid traditions.
What does it now say about this new global society in the 21st Century that lists Francesco, Sofia, Alessandro and Giulia alongside the evergreen Andrea, but also Mohammed, Youssef, Rayan, Melissa, Marwa, Kevin, Zakeria and Yasmine?
The 2012 data of the just released demographic analysis portrays a country in which the "Italian" children have reduced in numbers (12,000 fewer than in 2011, and 42,000 fewer than in 2008), while the children of "foreigners" rises by more than 2,800 since 2009.
In listing the most popular names, this new moniker atlas shows the provenance, the cultural references and the ambitions of parents today, the majority of whom are immigrants.
“This topic is very interesting. It refers to cultural identity as well as the how families speak at home within their own walls,” says Maurizio Ambrosini, professor of sociology of migratory processes in Milan, and author of the study “The New Neighbors.”
Different ethnicities make different choices. The Chinese, for example, tend to choose Italian names like Matteo, Andrea, Alessandro, Sofia, Elena and Elisa, while the Tunisians, Moroccans and Indians stay tied to their own roots with names like Omar, Mohammad, Ahmed, Hiba, Armaan, Gurnoor and Jasleen. Trends show that traditional names are chosen for baby boys yet, often, names for girls are influenced by the new country.
According to Ambrosini, kindergarten is key to reading the levels of integration: “Among the Italians, the choice of baby name reflects one’s standing in social class: Those that are popular refer to pop icons, soccer players, or mythology, while the cultural ones have been around for years thanks to tradition: Lorenzo, Fiammetta, and Virginia. Immigrants, instead, behave less schematically, and can be an indication of whether or not they want their child to have an Italian future.”
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Crossing cultures in Rome — Photo: Pek
Latin Americans are the most exposed to mass culture and opt for names that are, in reality, surnames — like Clinton, Ambrosini explains. "Those from Arab countries are more traditional, but it’s significant that they often choose names like Sara that belongs to both cultures," he says. "The Chinese get double names; a Chinese name for at home and an Italian one for outside, where the Chinese name would be unpronounceable.”
A name, an object of study by linguists and philosophers, from Roman Jakobson to Derrida, is much more than a mark on a document: It’s the projection of self onto the outside world, that which remains when other barriers (linguistic, cultural, generational) impede mutual understanding.
Foreigners, whose children will renew Italian society, are also influencing Italians. Many Italians have begun to call their daughters Nur, which means light in Arabic. The latest edition of The Complete Book Of Names has had to make adjustments to these changing choices and tastes.
Simplicity is surely a motivation in the decisions of foreigners to “normalize” their children’s routines. As well as that, having a complicated name in Italy can bring Kafka-esque labyrinths like those found by Brazilian Rodrigues de Lana Soares Geraldo Magela, who was denied Italian citizenship in 2005 because searches for his name returned multiple aliases, making it difficult to ascertain his identity.