From medieval times or earlier, the practice of abandoning newborn babies was tragically widespread.
In 1198, Pope Innocent III was distressed by the number of infants that were drowned in the Tiber River, and he declared that foundling wheels should be installed so women could anonymously leave their unwanted child in the care of a church, instead of killing it.
The “ruota pubblica”, a public wheelset in the outer wall of a house, church, or hospital was used for mothers to abandon infants they could not care for.
The wheel had a small basket on which a baby could be placed, then rotated into the building, without anyone on the inside seeing the person abandoning the child. The mother then pulled a cord on the outside of the building, causing an internal bell to ring, alerting nuns who would then receive, baptize, and register the new addition to the orphanage.
At first, Foundling wheels were used in Italy; then the practice soon spread to France, Spain, Portugal, and elsewhere in what was to become Catholic Europe.
In the 1830s-1860s, approximately 33,000 Italian newborns were being abandoned every year by desperate parents for a variety of reasons. These children had to be given names, and often these tell a little story in themselves about the child’s circumstances.
Many of these surnames exist to this day, with the bearers having no idea that somewhere in their lineage was an unwanted child.
As family researchers try to ‘build’ their family trees further and further back, many are frustrated by the ‘brick wall’ presented by a foundling ancestor.
Esposito and Colombo are the most common surnames that reflect a harsh reality that existed in the Italy of our grandparents or great-grandparents.
These names below have by now been inherited for generations, but, somewhere along the line, these folks’ ancestors were abandoned as infants.
|Surname||Meaning||# in U.S.|
|Esposito||placed outside, exposed||22,651|
|DiDio||(child) of god||1,652|
|Buonocore||from 'buon cuore' good-hearted||1,475|
|Venturini||(child) left to fate||1,469|
|Venturella||good luck or good fortune||952|
|Aprile||april (month abandoned)||985|
|Sposito||'expositus' meaning 'outside'||863|
|Proietti||thrown away, abandoned child||651|
|Melucci||loud but respectful||598|
|Colombini||from 'colombo' meaning dove||492|
|Casasanta||the holy house||394|
|Loggia||a roofed area||365|
|DiMonda||of the world||321|
|Casadei||from 'casadio' house of god||303|
|Pampinella||plant with its leaves||263|
|Proietto||thrown away, abandoned child||249|
|Febbraro||from 'febbraio' february||245|
|Zoccola||came from a slut, whore||242|
|Boncore||from 'buon cuore' good-hearted||219|
|Del Signore||belonging to the lord||181|
|Bonocore||from 'buon cuore' good-hearted||156|
|Settembre||september (month abandoned)||153|
|Lobascio||popped up out of nowhere||148|
|Del Popolo||(child) of the people||142|
|D'Aprile||from april (month abandoned)||134|
|Spurio||of illegitimate birth||120|
|Febbraio||february (month abandoned)||103|
|Buoncuore||from 'buon cuore' good-hearted||102|
|Bonafiglia||from 'buona figlia' good daughter||101|
|Bompadre||from 'buon padre' good father||78|
|Paradisi||plural of paradiso||72|
|Demundo||from 'del mondo' of the world||59|
How we made this list…
We used a number of different sources to find surnames that were used for abandoned infants in Italy.
The main source of information was Ettore Rossoni’s “L’Origine dei Cognomi Italiani: Storia ed Etimologia” (“The Origin of Italian Surnames: History and Etymology”).
We then used U.S. Census Bureau data to determine roughly how many Americans have these surnames today.
• Because Mr. Rossoni identifies Aprile, D’Aprile, Febbraio, Febbraro, and Settembre (April, February, and September) as surnames for abandoned infants derived from the names of the months in which the infants were abandoned, it may well be that the names of other months were similarly used.
The foundling surnames below are less common with fewer than 50 Americans with each surname.
Abbandonato, Aflitto, Angiolilli, Bonasorte, Boncordo, Buccafusca, Buonasorte, Buonerba, Cancello, Canciello, Casadio, De Chiara, Del Deo, Della Ventura, Devivi, Dimondo, Dimundo, Diotaiuti, Diotallevi, Infantini, Iuorno, Monasteri, Nocenti, Pensato, Perchiacca, Posati, Posato, Poverelli, Provvidenza, Puttin, Servodidio, Spavento, Trova, Trovati, Viavattene, Vinagro, Zoccolo.
Click on the Sign-Up button below to get our top stories sent to your email. It’s FREE!