Holidays & Traditions / Language

Buon Onomastico or, the Serendipity of Italian

Buon onomastico!” read a Facebook post a few years back on the page of a cherished Italian cousin, followed by several people of the same first name who were tagged with well-wishes and congratulations (auguri).

I had no idea what an onomastico was, but I was immediately intrigued. Why were so many people with the same first name celebrating something? And why was everyone over there so excited about it? (Beyond their usual enthusiasm for life). As always, smarty-pants Google provided answers.

Onomastico: name day, or feast day, celebrating the saint after whom a person is named.

Name days are celebrated in Italy (also Latin American cultures) with nearly as much importance as a birthday, particularly in southern Italy. Possibly because “almost all Italian Catholic children have a saint’s name in their personal litany of given names,” according to Italian Genealogy Online.

Even though I grew up in a family with two Italian grandparents — one a direct immigrant from Italy — we never celebrated anyone’s onomastico. We did hold on to some Italian traditions, my favorite being the Sunday dinners at my aunt’s house filled with family (cousins!) and food that took all day to prepare. But mostly, Grampa Mike came to America during a time when immigrants worked hard to be American, and thus separated themselves from many traditions that may have hindered their “Americanization”.

The genealogy site continued by describing the traditional pattern for naming children in Italy:

  • The first son is named after the father’s father.
  • The second son is named after the mother’s father.
  • The first daughter is named after the father’s mother.
  • The second daughter is named after the mother’s mother.

I am the first daughter in my family. In choosing my writing name, “di Anna”, literally of Anna, in honor of my father’s mother, I unknowingly followed the traditional Italian naming pattern. If I were to celebrate the onomastico for my Italian alter-ego, when might that be?

I searched the term St. Anna feast day. July 26 popped up and with it, a shiver ran along my spine. For July 26 is my beloved dad’s birthday, and it is in his memory that I continue to love learning Italian. I also discovered that the name Anna means grace, which has special significance to me (a causa della principessa wink wink).

Serendipity: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way; making fortunate discoveries by accident.

I have always felt that my love of learning Italian snuck up on me. Growing up, I had every opportunity to learn the language from my native-speaking grampa but, purtroppo (unfortunately) I never did. Per fortuna (luckily), Italian found me anyway.

It’s something that was meant to be, it just took me quite some time to figure it out. I still can’t really justify why I enjoy this pursuit so much.

Just this week, I was having a chat (facendo una chiacchiere) with an Italian-speaking waiter. “You are studying Italian?” he asked me politely. And then, a bit bewildered, “why?”

To which I really don’t have a clear answer. “E` divertente per me,” (it’s fun for me) is my standard reply, and “perche` ho famiglia in Italia.” (because I have family in Italy.)

And, even though it’s challenging and I know that when I speak I reveal just how much I still have to learn, the simple truth is that I just feel more lighthearted when I’m wrapped in Italian. Italian, ever faithful and present in my life, finally, accidentally, revealed itself to me as a healing, faithful, exuberant friend. Italiano e` il mio serendipita`. Italian is my serendipity.

I’m counting today as my onomastico. It is also my two-year blogging anniversary and, most important, my dad’s birthday. For years I have felt sad on this day, which used to be so happy.

But right now, I feel there is much for which to be grateful: finding joy in a pursuit which makes me feel close to people whom I have loved but are now lost to this world; continuing to write about these joys (even though the introvert in me frets over being so honest publicly); the ability to remember my dad first with a smile (and a tug at my heart) rather than with tears.

Our family Sunday dinners stopped years ago, as us kids got older and became focused on our own pursuits of going to school and raising families. But today, one cousin has worked hard to reunite our family to celebrate her mom’s 85th birthday. It’s at family gatherings where my Dad’s absence is most glaringly obvious, even all these years.

But in my heart, in my Italian name and every bit of Italian in my brain, and through the very happy accident of italiano, I carry him with me every day.

“Saint Anna is the mother of the Virgin Mary and the grandmother of Jesus. Her husband is Saint Joachim. Her name is a version of the Hebrew name Hanna. Anna means grace.”  (Wikipedia)  She is the patron saint of mothers and women in labor. Buon onomastico to all the Annas of the world!

Might you have an onomastico to celebrate? Visit NameDayCalendar to explore.

This post first appeared on Prayers and Piazzas.

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8 thoughts on “Buon Onomastico or, the Serendipity of Italian

  1. Pingback: 2016 Round Up | Prayers and Piazzas

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  4. Namedays are celebrated in the Orthodox church and countries too. Growing up in Greece I remember how much more important namedays were than birthdays, and in Russia too. They also have the same naming traditions and in my family we try to use a great /grandparent’s name as a second name.

    Liked by 1 person

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