Emidio De Felice, the author of the Dizionario dei cognomi italiani is considered to be the only researcher who has made a census on all the Italian surnames which appear in the telephone directory. De Felice explains that a large number of Italian surnames derive from first names with a Latin origin. A surprising variety of surnames derive from the names Giacomo (James), Giovanni (John) and Pietro (Peter). Giuseppe (Joseph), in fact, is a name which has hardly ever been used as a surname in Italy because it was reserved for the Hebrew communities until the Catholic Church determined its use by the XI century.
Juan is a boy’s name which comes from the Hebrew name יוחנן (Yôhānnān), which means The one faithful to God and from the original Hebrew it passed on to other languages. Giovanni is the name of two of the most worshipped saints in the Catholic Church: San Giovanni Evangelista (Saint John the Evangelist) and San Giovanni Battista (Saint John the Baptist).
The worship to these two saints was very strong since the beginning of Christianity but it became stronger and stronger during the Middle Ages with numerous dialect variations of the name. Bear in mind that dialects were frequently the only language people spoke.
The name Jhon in the different Italian dialects:
Latin : Ioannes
Sicilian: Giovanni varieties: Giuanni, Zuanne, Jubanne
Ligurian and Lombardian: Giuan, Giuanin and Gioan.
Venetian: Giuanìn and its varieties Vane, Nane, Zan.
Many times, singular and plural suffixes were added to names giving them something peculiar. Among them, we have the following suffixes in, ini, ino, etti, etto, allo, illo (little), etto – ello – etti – elli (funny), uccio - ucci (little and funny), one – otto – oni – otti (big), accio, astro, aglia (bad, ugly).
And if this was not enough, the Italian use the aphaeresis, a contraction of the surname, generally used in a friendly way, consisting of excluding the first syllable. Hence, Giovanni loses a syllable and becomes Gianni. And Gianni becomes Nanni, Vanni, Zanni according to the different dialects.
So, putting together all the dialectic expressions for GIOVANNI plus the combination of the suffixes, we find surnames such as Ianelli, Zanetti, Zanello, Zanetto, Zannetto, Iannucilli, Vanni, Vannio, Vanno, Vani, Vanetto, Vani, Vanino, Vannino, Vanuccio, Zanna, Zanne, Zani, Zani, Zuani, Zanelli, Zanela, Zanetti, Zanini, Zanoli, Zanotti, Zanutti, Zanicchi, Zanichelli, Zanocchi, Zanoni, Zanassi, Zanussi, Zanardi, Zanardelli, Zanaroli, Zanenghi, Zanieri, Zanier, Zamarini, Zambardi, etc. A long list of surnames spread in the whole North: Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna.
Of the diminutives for Giovanni surnames such as Giovannini Giovannini, Giovannetti, Giovannelli, Giovannoni, Giovani, Gioani, Ioan, Gioana, Di Giovanni, Della Giovanna, Giovagnoli, Giovannozi, Giovannazzi, Giovannoti, Giovannico, Giovannino, Iovanni, and others have appeared.
And of the diminutives for Gianni there are surnames such as Giani, Ianni, Giannelli, Giannetti, Giannini, Giannoli, Ganoli, Gianasi, Gianuzzi, Giannazzi, Gianeschi, Iannelli, Iannone, Iannili, Iannetti, Iannucci, Iannacci, Iannacco, Iannazzo, Iannuzzi. Giannetto, Giannino, Giannello, Gianno, Gianello, Gianetto, Giannico, Giannozzo.
The person’s characteristics have also been added to the name:Giabell; Giambelli, (Gian + beautiful); Giamboni (Gian + good) and Giannirusso (Gianni+russo –red haired), Giannirizzo (Gianni+rizzo = Curly haired John).
And if we consider the variety Zani, we have Zangrandi (Zan+big), Zangrossi (Zan+fat), Zambelli, Zambeletti, Zambenedetto, Zambianchi, Zamboni, Zanaboni, Zanazzo, Zanpiccolo. And even the weird surname Zangrillo (Zan + cricket).
The widespread of the surnames derived from the name Juan in the Italian territory is very important. In the south most surnames are preceded by DI, derived from the father’s name or della, derived from the mother. The surnames starting with I, may start with J in some regions, generally in the south of Italy.
In some cases the surname is composed of two names, where it is possible that the second name identify the grandfather. E.g.: Colaianni, that is: Nicola (Cola) son of Giovani (Ianni).
Combinations with Giovanni + another name: Giovanpaolo, Giovanpaolo, Antongiovanni, Giovanbattista, Giovan Battista, Giovambattista, Giobattista, Giobatta, Giovanmaria, Giovammaria, Giomaria, Giommaria, Giovannantonio, Giovancarlo.
Combinations with Gianni + another name: Giangiacomo, Giangiacomo, Giampaolo, Giampietro, Giampiero, Gianandrea, Gianantonio, Gianbruno, Giancarlo, Giandomenico, Gianfilippo, Gianfrancesco, Gianfranco, Giangaetano, Giangaleazzo, Gianlorenzo, Gianluca, Gianluigi, Gianpasquale, Gianpiero, Gianpietro, Gianmarco, Gianmario, Gianmatteo, Gianmauro, Gianrico, Gianvito, Gialleonardo, Gianleonardo, Giambartolomei, Giambenedetti, Giambertone, Giammarco, Giammatteo.
Combinations with Zani + another name: Zanluca, Zanardi (Zan son of Nardo) Zanpieri (Zan son of Piero), Zangiacomi (Zan son of Giacomo).