During my visit to Castelfondo, Italy in 2011, I had the good fortune to meet a distinguished gentleman by the name of Andrea Cologna. Born in the village, Andrea had left as a young man, living most of his adult life in Canada. He had recently returned to his childhood home of Castelfondo. Luckily Andrea was fluent in English, Italian and the local dialect of Nones. He was the perfect guide, telling me stories of the old days, explaining important village landmarks and helping me walk in the footsteps of my ancestors.
When we visited the small cemetery next to San Nicolo church, there were many surnames I recognized … of course among them, many Genettis. Andre brought me to a very specific part of the cemetery and pointed to several grave markers. “These are your family, the Lanci. The other Genettis aren’t from your branch. Damiano (my great-grandfather) was a Lanci,” Andrea said.
I was mystified, what was a “Lanci”? I had never heard this name before. So I took a few photos of the stones that read “Famiglia Genetti Lanci” and decided to look into this odd name later. About six months after my trip, I began researching the old church documents. And there it was again! The name “Lanci” was attached to Genetti in most birth, marriage and death records of my branch of the family, but not to other branches. It appeared in different forms such as Lanchet, Lancia and Lanci. Andrea wrote that he had done a little research on his own and found that the original form of the name was “Lanchet” which was Old German for the word “Lance”.
After a bit more research into Trentino history, I soon learned this “second name” was commonly used by large Tyrolean families to designate different sections of the family. It was called a sopranome or nickname. The sopranome had several purposes. It helped delineate close blood relatives so you didn’t accidentally marry your cousin, which could happen in a small, isolated community. It also identified a specific person. At any one time there could be five or six men named Giovanni Battista Genetti living within the village, as children were often named after parents, grandparents or other relatives. By adding the sopranome to the surname, one could tell the difference between Giovanni Battista Genetti Lanci and Giovanni Battista Genetti di Raina. Besides Genetti Lanci, I also found Genetti Onz, Genetti di Ovena (of Ovena) and Genetti di Raina (of Raina). These seemed to signify the main branches of the Genetti family tree.
Closely examining each generation in the ancient ledgers, I discovered the first ancestors in my direct line to have Lanci documented in a birth record was Pietro Genetti born in 1650. Most likely his father, Georgio Genetti (born 1623) had begun using it during his lifetime and passed it on to his children. And so this sopranome continued through at least eight generations, but was not used by the families that emigrated to the Americas. When my great-grandfather returned to Castelfondo to live out his later years, he was known in the village as Dominic Lanci. With the passing of three generations, the tradition of the sopranome has faded from our memories. What a shame! I rather like the idea that my Italian name could have been “Aloisia Anna Genetti Lanci”.
Excellent post. I cover sopranome a bit at http://trentinoheritage.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/early-information-about-a-family-in-trentino/ . Like I did, many times you will find ancestors where husband and wife have the same last name. The only way to distinguish the branches is through sopranomi. I found that I was descended from three different branches of Iob’s.
Thanks for your comment. I have received Trentino Heritage by email for some time. Your posts are very informative about the Tyrolean culture. Many thanks!