Family Stories: Naming Patterns – Nicknames

Family Stories


Favorite Name – Naming Patterns – Nicknames

In searching for popular names of 1900, it seems my husband’s family was covered in the use of names such as… John, Joseph, Frank, Mary, Fred, Margaret, Rose, Joe, Frank, Catherine, Josephine, Andrew, Michael, Pauline, Johnnie, Stephen, Nancy, Rosie, Jimmie, Nicholas, Steve, Celia, and Cecelia.

My favorite names in my husband’s family was always his grandmothers’ names… Domenica and Giacinta. I hinted a few times of using those names for my grandchildren, but that didn’t get me anywhere!

The name “Domenica” is a Spanish baby name, meaning as born on Sunday, although Grandma Minnie was born on a Tuesday, and named after her father’s mother, Domenica DeCuore; it is also the Italian feminine form of Dominic and an alternate form of the French name Dominique. I never learned her actual name until I began writing and researching the family history… I had only known her as Grandma Minnie… she was Minnie to everyone, although on her marriage certificate, her name was written as Michela… confused… well, so was I.

Italian Naming Patterns

  • A first-born son is named after his paternal grandfather..
  • A second son born is named after his maternal grandfather.
  • A third, born son would be named after his father.
  • The first female is named after her paternal grandmother.
  • The second female is named after her maternal grandmother.
  • The third female is named after her mother.

Subsequent children born into the family were usually named after favorite aunts and uncles, or even deceased relatives. You’ll often find a child in the family with a deceased sibling of the same name. In the DeTulio family, there was a daughter, Antoinette, born in 1910, who only lived a short six months. In 1911, another daughter was born and her mother Giulia (Julia) renamed her Antoinette… after the deceased daughter. (I was told this by Mary D. Pompone)

Naming Patterns were a family tradition in most Italian households and in looking through the families of Cambino, DeTulio, and Insalaco… I’ve written who was named for whom!

Giovanni & Guilia DeTulio

Giovanni Americanized into John and Giulia into Julia

DiTullio transformed into DeTullio and later DeTulio

  • Giuseppe DeTulio – named after his paternal grandfather, Giuseppe DiTullio
  • Domenica DeTulio – named after her paternal grandmother, Domenica DeCuore
  • Antoinette DeTulio – b. 1910, d. 1910
  • Antoinette DeTulio – b. 1911, named after her deceased sister.
  • Carmela DeTulio
  • Rosa DeTulio
  • Michael DeTulio
  • Maria DeTulio
  • Nicholas DeTulio
  • Andrew DeTulio
  • Lucia DeTulio – named after her mother’s sister Lucia Catalano
  • Josephine DeTulio

Guilia’s parents were Giovanni and Theresa Catalano, but yet none of the children received those names; I only found two siblings for Giulia… Giovanni Jr., and Lucia. I have no siblings for Giovanni DeTulio, so possibly the rest of the family was named for them.

John and Julia mostly spoke Italian in the home and their children grew up learning both English at school, and Italian at home. John probably spoke more English in working outside the home, as he needed to communicate with others. From all told to me, Julia spoke mostly Italian, with very few words in English… which made it hard for the great-grandchildren to have conversation with her, but I’m sure she was able to communicate with them by her daughters translating.


Giuseppe Gambino / Cambino and Domenica DeTulio

Giuseppe became Joseph & Joe – Domenica became Michela & Minnie

Gambino transformed into Cambino

Giuseppe’s siblings were… Francesco, Maria Cristina, Salvatore, and Annunziata,

  • Catherine
  • Frederick Joseph named after his paternal grandfather Federico Gambino
  • Cecelia
  • John – named after his maternal grandfather Giovanni DeTulio
  • Frank named after his paternal uncle Francesco Gambino
  • Nancy named after her paternal aunt, Annunziata (Nunzia) Gambino
  • Antoinette named after her maternal aunt Antoinette DeTulio

Joe and Minnie spoke mostly English in their home… Minnie speaking more Italian as that had been her primary language in her home, but Joe was insistent that his children learn and only speak English. He wanted them to be more American and not associate in the customs and language of Italy. Later in life, his children wished just the opposite… wishing that they had learned Italian in the home and could speak both languages instead of only knowing English.


Stefano Insalaco and Giacinta DiRosa

Stefano transformed into Stephen and Steve, but I never heard any name for Giacinta other than “Mama.”

  • Louise Rosario Insalaco – named after her paternal grandmother Louisa M. Cacciato
  • Anthony – named after his paternal grandfather Antonio F. Insalaco
  • Stephen Joseph Insalaco – named after his paternal grandfather Stefano Insalaco and also his maternal grandfather Stefano DiRosa
  • Maria A. Insalaco – named after her maternal grandmother Maria Stincone
  • Thomas Insalaco
  • Virginia Rosalie Insalaco
  • Peter Paul Insalaco named after his maternal great-grandfather Pietro Stincone
  • Ruth Insalaco
  • Martha Insalaco

As more second-generation were born in America, the custom of Italian naming patterns soon disappeared as they wanted their children to be more associated with being American and born here. Italian was not usually spoken in the Insalaco household… Giacinta often reverted to speaking more Italian, but was quickly prompted by her daughters to “speak English Mama“. I always enjoyed hearing her speak Italian, but they encouraged her to speak English.



Giuseppe Americanized his name quickly into Joseph and Joe, and later all the children, even Minnie referred to him as “the old man“, but only when he wasn’t around; it’s also said friends referred to him as such also. My husband remembers that when he was young, he’d heard his grandfather called that so often, that he thought it really was his name.

So many Cambino family members ended up with nicknames… “Cecelia” morphed to just Celia, but her brothers preferred to call her “york” or “yawk” and sometimes “yatti”. “Antoinette” became “Dolly” because it was said that she didn’t like to play with dolls. Her brother Freddie often teased her by calling her “dreep“. The boys Frank, Fred and John Cambino transformed to Frankie, Johnny, and Freddie. After Johnny began racing at Savin Rock’s West Haven Speedway, he became known as “King Cambo“, “King” and “Big John.” Later when Johnny Jr. was born, he soon became known as “little Johnny”… who does that anymore to their children? Even as they are all grown now, it’s hard to refrain from saying “little”… when calling them by name.

Daughter, Nancy Cambino never seemed to have had a nickname, but when her niece Nancy Cambino was born, daughter of Johnny and Maggie, the baby quickly became “little Nancy.” It worked the same way with Dolly’s son, Joseph Burgarello… he was called “little Joey“, as his father was known as “Joe, Joey, and Joey Bags“.

Catherine, was always Catherine… mostly no nickname, but I have heard some call her Cat. Her husband, James Donahue, was known as Jimmy and Jim, and Uncle Gee by his nephews and nieces on his side of the family. Sister Nancy married Gennaro Cavallaro, who was known by the American version of Gene. Their son, Paul, escaped the “little”, as his middle name was Gene, but their son, Paul, quickly became known as “little Paul”, but he’s now outgrown that now as he has a “little Paul” to carry that title on now.


In the DeTulio family, we have Michael DeTulio, who became known as “Mikie” and “O’Toole”, Josephine was shortened to “JoJo”, Rosaria DeTulio became Rose, Rosie, and later “Roseburg” or “the bird” because of her married name Burzynski. Antoinette was most often called by her given name but sometimes was called “Antoine”. Antoinette married James Carbone, who was called “Jimmy Brown”… a name he was called from his boxing name; one son Joseph “Johnny” Carbone somehow acquired the nickname of “Johhnycakes”… no one has yet figured out who nicknamed him or why… might we assume he loved johnnycakes? When Lucy DeTulio married Frank Romano, they became known as “Lulu and Rummy.” I’ve never heard anyone refer to their brother Andrew other than his given name, but he was also called Uncle Andy. Their brother Nicholas became Nicky to everyone, Carmela was shortened to Carmel and Mary was always known as Mary, no nickname! What’s most remembered about Mary is… her cooking!


The Insalaco family didn’t seem to have nicknames as the Cambino and DeTulio families had. My father in law, Stephen, was mostly called Steve and later more as Stef. His sister, Maria, was called Mary and his brother Antonio went by Tony. His sisters, Louise, Virginia, and Ruthie, were always called by their given names.

My husband, Steve Insalaco, was called “beans” or “string bean” by his uncles… why… because, as a young boy, he was thin as a bean pole; his son followed in that same trait and uncle Frankie often called him “little beans.” If you weren’t named after a family member, you escaped the “little” in your name. My husband called our son Stephen “little man”, and our daughter Melissa, “sunshine“… not quite sure why, but it flowed with her name.

If I’ve missed any of the family nicknames… please let me know so I might add to the story.


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© 2020, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved

About Jeanne Bryan Insalaco

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3 Responses to Family Stories: Naming Patterns – Nicknames

  1. ReginaMary says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post! Being of Italian heritage myself, this sound very familiar. I absolutely loved all of the nicknames my aunts and uncles had! It was unfortunate how the names were changed at Ellis Island; it makes it more difficult to trace history. Thanks for the wonderful journey through your roots!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It all makes sense, and if the rules are followed there are no hurty feelings.


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