As you already know, my name is Valerie. My parents chose this name after much debate; they finally drew the name out of a hat, while I and the doctor awaited their decision...three days after I was born. It's not a bad name, and according to baby name books, it means "strong," which I like.
I'm the only Valerie in the village. In Ascoli Piceno, all my friends immediately took to calling me Valeria, the Italian pronunciation, which was fine with me. The name is the same, after all; just a little more musical. Here in Basilicata, though, I have found that they prefer to say my name as it is spelled and pronounced in English (or French, as they say it dervies from that language). "Your name is your identity, we want to say it properly," they tell me. I think it's sweet.
Bryan has a little more difficulty. Whereas Valerie at least has an Italian equivalent, his name is completely unfamiliar and takes a little more explaining. They want to know the Italian version as a point of reference, which doesn't exist. The closest we mustered during our residence in Ascoli was Bruno, which was a little fortuitous because the saint day for San Bruno also happens to be Bryan's birthday. Here, Bryan is often given the French pronunciation "Bree-an".
The local name base is rather limited. There is a strong tradition in Italy, particularly in the south, to name the firstborn child after the paternal grandfather (or maternal grandmother for the girls) and then the second child after the maternal grandfather (or paternal grandmother). Therefore, names get recycled generation after generation so that you have un sacco di gente (a ton of people) with the same names. In our village, for example, the vast majority of males are named Antonio, Giuseppe or Michele (and are called by derivitives thereof, such as Tonino, Anton, Peppe, or Peppino). The women are mostly named Antonietta, Maria and Carmella. This leads to a lot of confusion in conversations, which go something like this:
"So I was talking to Giuseppe the other day..."
"The son of Rocco or the son of Maria?"
"The son of Rocco."
"Ah, Peppe, you mean."
"Yeah, like I was saying..."
For those of us not born and raised here, who don't yet know all the intricacies of familial ties and interconnections, we frequently don't know the qualifying parents to understand which Giuseppe (or Michele or Antonio) they are referring to. The qualifiers are a bit of a hassle for locals, too, which is why almost everyone has a sopranome, or nickname. Hence, there is a Michele known as Michelino (little Mike) because, in humorous irony, he's a really big guy. Then there's a Giuseppe who is nicknamed Champagne, but haven't been able to figure out why. Our friend Sandro (one of the few original names in the village) is nicknamed Micino (little kitten) because his dad (Michele) is nicknamed Gattone (big cat).
Piano piano we're learning the sopranomi of our friends and neighbors and the stories behind them. We are also figuring out how they are all connected, because everyone but everyone is related- either directly, through marriage, or in a long-distance lineage- somehow to everyone else. Even me. We discovered that I am a distant cousin of a certain Maria, connected through our paternal lines to my ancestral village of Anzi. She couldn't be more thrilled and calls me Cugina.
While I'm sometimes referred to as la professoressa, the sopranome most commonly heard in reference to us is, naturally, gli americani. Va buo', can't change that big qualifier; we're the only ones here. At least we've never heard of any negative nicknames...so far!
Interestingly, while other regions lend the regional name to the people - Toscani (Tuscany), Abruzzese (Abruzzo) or Siciliani (Sicily), the residents of Basilicata are not called Basilicatesi...they are Lucani. The ancient name for this region was Lucania and there is a still a very strong bond and identity in that history. A person is una Lucana or un Lucano- proudly and maybe a bit defiantly, staking their roots to the ancient people who predated the Romans and Magna Grecia.
I was reminded of the beauty of names and nicknames yesterday at a book signing. A local writer, who is also one of my English students, signed my copy - To the Americana with a Lucana soul. I think that pretty much sums it up.