Pope Francis welcomes a baby upon his arrival at St. Peter's square at the Vatican Rome Italy
Credit: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

Names have meaning. Most names tell two stories: the first is the meaning behind the name, and the second is the meaning behind the choice.

In Rome, Mussolini demolished an entire neighborhood of medieval buildings in order to excavate the Roman Forum. When he paved a road down the middle, linking the neoclassical Vittorio Emanuele II monument to the Colosseum, he called it Via Fori Imperiali.

He didn't go with Mussolini Road, Republican Road, or Medieval Road, but “Imperial Forum Road,” explicitly connecting Italy’s present (as represented by the 19th-century monument to its first king) to its imperial past, ignoring the era that both preceded and followed the Roman Empire. It wasn’t a strictly inaccurate description of where the road went, but it said more about Mussolini than it did about the archeological site it bisected.

Popular Italian Names

In Italy, names for people and places spring from and call back to the country's long and complicated past. Some given names — Adriano, Giulia, Claudio — can be traced back to Ancient Rome: Hadrian, Julia, Claudius. Other names come from saints and apostles: Paolo, from Paul; Giuseppe, from Joseph; Matteo, from Matthew; Tommaso, from Thomas. (Some are both religious as well as Roman: Marco/Marcus/Mark.)

Like Latin that preceded it, contemporary Italian makes it easy to switch the gender of a name. (Though it makes gender neutrality in given names quite difficult.) Giovanni can become Giovanna; Francesca can become Francesco. As a result, there aren’t many specific Italian girl names or Italian boy names, just gendered suffixes.

With some exceptions (typically masculine Andrea and Luca, for example), names that end in "o" or "i" tend to be male names, while "a" often ends female names.

In some Italian families, birth order and family custom determine a child’s given name. The first boy is traditionally named after his paternal grandfather and the first girl after her paternal grandmother. The second boy and girl are named after their respective maternal grandparents, ensuring that given names remain in the family for generations.

Italy, like many other European countries, bars names that it deems “ridiculous or shameful” by law. In 2007, an Italian court ruled that a child could not be named “Friday.”

According to a national Italian statistics agency, Istat, Francesco was the most popular boy name in the country in 2015 — likely inspired by Pope Francis.

The single most popular Italian girl name was Sofia for the second year in a row, which is derived from the Greek Sophia, meaning wisdom.