Heritage Immigration Tradition

What’s in a Name?

Growing up, most of the last names of my classmates were either Irish or Italian. There were very few “Medigan” (American/non-Italian) names. Think names like Smith, Jones, Anderson, and the like. Names that sound like they have no real ethnicity to them. We would joke about names ending in vowels. You were 90 percent sure you had a shared experience. Names that didn’t? Well… you just weren’t sure.

Then came my boyfriend who would eventually become my husband.

Glenn and Andrea on our wedding day at Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ.
Me and my husband
on our wedding day.

He most assuredly did not have a vowel at the end of his last name. It was the most Medigan of Medigan names. I was excited to become his wife, but I was not excited to lose my name. I actually had almost what I can only describe as a feeling of mourning. I felt like I lost a bit of my identity.

While not the same, I felt something similar again this week as I continue my search for my family heritage on Ancestry. I knew generally names were changed. I knew in an effort to become more “American” families would name babies Patrick instead of Pasquale and Lucille instead of Lucia. I also knew names were changed upon entry at Ellis Island. Anyone who has watched The Godfather saw it in action when Vito Antolini from Corleone, Sicily became Vito Corleone.

Well, this week I saw it in action with my own eyes in my own family history.

First, was the change of my great-great grandfather’s first name on my father’s side when he applied for citizenship. Born in 1877, he immigrated from Cirome, Sicily in 1906 as “Santo” as his first name. On April 13, 1939, Santo, became a United States citizen and was officially recognized by the government as “Sam.”

The second, and I will admit, much more disappointing, was the last name of my grandmother’s family. We always thought our name was “Fucetola.” My great-grandfather, Gabriel E. Ficetola, was born in 1856, in Calabritto. Through the help of a friend, I found his documented birth record… as Gabriele Ficetola. Not only was the last name changed during his immigration to the United States. “Gabriele” became “Gabriel E.”

It made me sad. I felt that sense of loss all over again.

Now, I have no idea if they had any disappointment in the name changes. My guess is they were just happy to be here and it didn’t really matter. Obviously, I can’t say for sure either way.

Despite the name changes, they were still the same people. No one could take away the essence of what God made them. And the same goes for me. My last name may have changed, but I was still the same person. A proud American made with Italian parts.

And my husband? He’s half Dutch, one-quarter Hungarian, and one-quarter Italian. But his upbringing and personality is all Italian. He was raised with the same love of his grandparents, the “pile of cousins” we all have, and the strong sense of family. It goes to show you, the Italian always shines through!

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