Surnames of Orphans

Specific surnames were most commonly given to children who were orphans, illegitimate, or foundlings such as Esposito meaning exposed or Trovato, meaning found which identified the child for life as an abandoned child.  This often caused shame and embarrassment to the child.  After the Unification in 1865, this practice was no longer allowed.

Other common foundling names include:

  • Benvenuto – Welcome
  • Conforte – Comforted
  • Salvati – Saved
  • Brutto – Ugly
  • Sventura- Unfortunate
  • Aflitto – Afflicted

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3 thoughts on “Surnames of Orphans”

  1. Hello. Could you please tell me how I obtain any information on my grandmother?
    She was born in Messina Sicily probably around 1870’s. She was placed on the church doorsteps
    and the nuns there gave her the last name of Messina. Her first name was Rosa. All we know is that her
    mother’s name was Sophia. Since all of her children have passed away, this is all we have to go by.

    Also I would like to know who I can contact in locating some of my cousins in San Giovanni Fiore, Calabria.
    I found a letter from my Father’s brother, my father passed away 1 1/2 years after receiving this letter. I would appreciate it very much. Thank you for your time. Sincerely, Mary Mokhayesh (Biafora)

    1. It’s very difficult to find a child’s biological parents from this time as most children left for adoption were ‘foundlings’ – meaning the parents details were not revealed. The mother mat have been from a neighbouring town who left the town to go to another only to give birth and then left again. To contact family in San Giovanni I would use Pagine Bianche [Italian White Pages] . You also should try tracing your ancestry backwards using what you know and Family Search and or the Cosenza Archive site. Both are free to use.

  2. So I know my great grandfather was raised in a monistery in Padula Italy . My last name is De Santis I am told it was a name given to him by the church . I’ve heard same was case with De Angelis .
    Have you heard of this ?

    Thanks Jimmy ( named for my father Vincenzo) De Santis

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