I am continually amazed at the random and rather unflattering things you can learn just by listening to the locals talk to one another. For example this week I learned that GOBBU is Calabrese dialect for “hunchback” and CAPONA means “big head.”
Wanna know the context in which I heard these words?
Peppinu u Gobbu
Massimo u Capona
Oh … and Maria a Lorda.
In the southern Italian world where every first son is named after his father’s father, you tend to have an overwhelming majority of Giuseppes, Salvatores or Giovannis … and all with the same last name. In small villages there was also an abundance of families with the same last name, making it hard for the locals to easily distinguish one person from another. So how did they manage?
Much like my old Kappa Sig buddies at LU, southern Italians bestowed nicknames on each other and in a place where political correctness has seen no light, the soprannomi were often unflattering, distasteful or just plain rude.
The dialect-derived nickname was placed directly after the person’s first name, replacing the family name, such as in the above example of “Peppinu u Gobbu,” or “Peppe the Hunchback.”
The soprannome followed this person throughout his life, with his children often being referred to as “Il figlio di Massimo u Capona,” which translates as “The son of Massimo the Big Head.”
Can you imagine?
Class rank was an important factor in determining soprannomi, with wealthy landowners assuming names such as Padrona or Don. Other times a person’s country or village of origin became the basis for his nickname, as in the case of “Gianluca u Curtalitu,” or “Gianluca the Cortalese.”
In other cases, soprannome-dealing friends would use the person’s habits, morals or job as the descriptive name, when possible tying in more than one of these elements. This was the case for the morzello-making chef with questionable hygiene, “Maria a Lorda,” which translates as “Dirty Maria.”
This was also the case for poor “Rosa a Puttana,” you know … that ever-giving, hard-working and high-ground seeking Rosa. The Hooker.
“Talianu u Piscialettu” had bed-wetting issues.
“Pasquale u Spinnatu” was bald.
and then there was “Antonio Gamba e Lignu” with the wooden leg.
In large Calabrian cities this is a vanishing trend, leaving most of the new generation soprannome-less. But, what if it found a revival? How do you think this treasured tradition would fly in America? And what do you think your soprannome would be?
Leave your soprannome in the comments and we’ll have a contest! Winner will receive a cool, Calabrese give-a-way compliments of My Bella Vita and Il Cedro Bed and Breakfast.
* Deadline to enter is Tuesday, September 9. Random drawing will be held on Wednesday, September 10, with winner being revealed on Thursday, September 11. Soprannomi can be written in English. Good luck!