From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 29
Giorgio da Gioviano

Until around 1300, there were very few titles of nobility such as Duca, Marchese, Conte, Visconte, or Barone. Life was much simpler then, and a major thing that separated the common people from the nobility was the fact that the common people went by their given name alone aristocrats bore surnames.

Oftentimes, the surname would be based on the family’s fief, thus if I was a simple peasant my name would be simply Giorgio. However, if my family owned the ancient Etruscan city of Russellae, I might go by Giorgio da Russellae.

The case of Leonardo, whose mother was a peasant woman, is differentiated from the hundreds of other Tuscans bearing that same name by using the name of the town of his birth in lieu of a surname. Thus, Leonardo da Vinci comes from the town of Vinci, rather than from somewhere else. Had Leonardo been born in Pisa, we would know him today as Leonardo da Pisa.

In Gioviano, we all still live somewhat in the 14th century as I am simply Giorgio, and I know my friends, with few exceptions, by their first names alone. Thus, I know Dina, Domenico, Danilo, Melide, Daria, Mariella, Daniela, Giampaolo, Roberto, Oriana, Dino, Laura, Michele, Tuna, Claudio, Gaetano, Velia, Remo, Maria and so on by their first names, but you would have to strike me dead if my life depended on knowing their last names, much less the family surnames of the married women that they retain rather than taking the surname of their husbands.

In Gioviano, I am Giorgio, my wife is Susanna, our daughters are Anna, Giovanna, Carolina, and our son is Andrea. My mother is Margherita since there seems to be no Italian name for Marjorie, and my father is Cannetto. Since there is no “th” sound in Italian, the people simply cannot pronounce the name Kenneth. I would be very much surprised if more than a handful of the citizens of Gioviano, virtually all of whom know our first names, have any idea that our last name is Russell.

On more than one occasion while attempting to visit female Giovianini who are in the hospital, we have been unable to locate them because they are registered under their maiden names.

I should have figured the system out long before now but didn’t. It should have been obvious since on the deed to Casa Giorgio, Sue is listed as Suzanne Bennett, rather than Suzanne Russell. I hadn’t really paid any attention to the wording on the deed so was surprised when Sue just mentioned how she was titled on the document.

Sometimes, I visit with people in the general area whom I have met in years past but who can’t exactly recall who I am just by reintroducing myself as Giorgio, insert When I tell them that I am Giorgio da Gioviano, their faces light up as they then remember who I am.

Revised March 3, 2008
Copyright 2005-2006 George H. Russell
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