Holidays & Traditions

Buon Onomastico or, the Serendipity of Italian

What is an Onomastico, and Why is it Important?

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 were people so excited about it? As always, Google provided answers.

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

Name days are celebrated in Italy 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.

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.

The Serendipity of Italian

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 is my treasured only daughter’s name, a connection between my Italian grandmother and my daughter which I had never realized.

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 grandfater but, purtroppo (unfortunately) I never did. Per fortuna (luckily), Italian found me anyway.

It’s something that was meant to be, it just took quite some time to figure it out. I still can’t really justify why I enjoy this pursuit so much. I’m reminded of having a chat (facendo una chiacchiere) with an Italian-speaking waiter a while back. “You are studying Italian?” he asked me politely. And then, a bit bewildered, “why?”

To which I really don’t have a clear answer. È divertente per me, — it’s fun for me — and perchè ho famiglia in Italia — because I have family in Italy are  my standard replies. 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 è il mio serendipità. Italian is my serendipity.

“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.

A version of this post first appeared on Prayers and Piazzas on July 26, 2015. For the coming months, while crafting new content, Prayers and Piazzas will be featuring popular posts from the archives. We hope you enjoy these favorites while we are creating new material.

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