Queen Mary I of England struck fear in the hearts of her subjects as Bloody Mary.

Il Soprannome cover graphicUnited States president Abraham Lincoln was humbly known as Honest Abe.

Elvis, before and after he left the building, was and always will be the King of Rock-and-Roll.

Muhammad Ali, f.k.a Cassius Clay, was given the hometown moniker of Louisville Lip early in his boxing career.

And, during his heyday, Frank Sinatra roamed the Las Vegas strip as the Chairman of the Board.

Whether you’re a boxer, a rocker, a president, a crooner, a queen or a John/Joan Doe, your soprannome (nickname) tells almost as much about you as the genetic instructions found in your DNA.

PIOVENE ROCCHETTE: Nicknames R Us

Panoramic view of Piovene Rocchette down to the valley belowNever is this truer than in Piovene Rocchette, a former Roman control post along the road towards Tirol that sits in the foothills of the pre-Alps, in the province of Vicenza, Italy.

It’s a small municipality of just under 8,500 curious onlookers, where the art of giving most locals, or even entire families, a nickname that brands them for the rest of their lives is brought to new heights.

Official Nickname Guide of PioveneThe city hall published some years ago a detailed list of all of the nicknames – familial and personal – that have been in use since 1900. This list notes 189 family nicknames and 509 personal nicknames.

For instance, an unkempt man who lived up in the hilly part of town, and not very good at keeping his house clean, was affectionately referred to as Maiale sciolto in cucina (Pig loose in the kitchen).

World War I monument - Piovene (VI), Italy | ©Tom Palladio Images
My dearly departed brother-in-law, Attilio, who stood head and shoulders above practically everyone else in town, was nicknamed Di qui non si passa (From here no one passes) after the inscription of the same chiseled into the monument that stands in the town square honoring those who served in the “War to end all wars.”

Maria, who, along with her entire family, immigrated to Canada, returned home alone after ten years abroad and was warmly and immediately christened Maria Canadese (Canadian Maria).

As the lone Yank who lived a spell in postal code 36103, I was simply called l’Americano (The American).

Personally, I would’ve preferred a moniker a bit more creative, graphic, or endearing, but the townsfolk dubbed me l’Americano and I ran with it.

Admittedly, George Clooney I’m not, but I managed to fit right in.

Blackbirds and Gravesites

On frequent strolls through Piovene Rocchette on our way out to the cemetery or just around town – that’s what people do for fun on Sundays after lunch in small bergs here in Italy – Maria Canadese would point people out — those we would pass on the street, their house or apartment where they lived, or during a pause at a graveside — but only by their soprannome:

Merlo (Blackbird, due to the man’s pronounced nose and fidgety head).

Marco Orto (Mark Garden, the the greengrocer down the street).

Papa Grappa (Father Grappa, the monsignor at the parish church who enjoyed wetting his whistle).

Ciodi (Nails, who owned and operated the local hardware store).

And the list goes on and on.

BEPPE TESTA: In Vin Veritas

Centuries-old walkway in PioveneDuring the week, I would commute to Vicenza and leave the house right on schedule at 7:30 a.m. Right on schedule, too, was Beppe Testa — a close friend of my suocero, (father-in-law) Guido — who always made his way by our house at the same time as I was pulling the car out, meandering up Via Liberta’ for his daily constitution at the local bar.

I’d always roll down the window, wave and say, Buongiorno Signor Testa (Good morning Mr. Testa). He’d smile, wave back, but give me a confused look like he didn’t recognize me.

The Joke’s on Me

La Gazzetta dello Sport | ©Tom Palladio ImagesMost evenings when I returned home from work I’d find suocero Guido at the kitchen table engrossed in his daily “bible” reading — the pink pages of La Gazzetta dello Sport (The Sport Gazette).

Before heading upstairs to our apartment, I’d pop in, spend a few minutes with him, maybe have an ombra (wine aperitif), and get the latest lowdown on Inter Milan, his beloved squadra di calcio (soccer/football team).

One particular night, I mentioned to Guido that I saw his old friend, Signor Testa, that morning.

Wine on the tableWith a confused look on his face he asked, Signor Testa? Chi e Signor Testa? (Who is Mr. Testa?)

“Your old friend, Beppe,” I replied.

“Ah,” Guido chuckled, “his real name is Giuseppe B. We call him Beppe Testa because he has such a BIG head (testa).”

Quickly realizing my gaff, I chuckled, too, unfortunately, at Beppe “Big Head’s” expense.

So, what’s the nickname you were given as a kid and carried with you all your life? Care to share what’s in your folksy DNA?

©The Palladian Traveler | ©Tom Palladio Images

The Palladian Traveler's Borsalino over cobblestone | ©Tom Palladio Images

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Written by The Palladian Traveler

Tom traded his hometown St. Louis Cardinals' baseball cap in the United States for a Borsalino and he now hangs his "capello" in the Puglia region of southeastern Italy. A veteran print and broadcast journalist, with well-worn passports that have got him into and out of 50 countries and counting, Tom fell in love with the "Bel Paese" years ago. As he notes, "I'm inspired by the beauty I find in all things that are very, very old, and reliving history, or at least meandering along cobblestone streets that were laid down over a thousand years ago and just looking up and marveling at what occupies the space still today, really gets my 'Vespa' running." Tom has a good eye behind the lens and is a graphic storyteller, but he'll let you decide as he keeps his camera batteries fully charged and the posts flowing from his creative hideaway in the hills overlooking Ostuni. You can also follow his dispatches along the cobblestone via TravelingBoy.com.

11 comments

  1. Good one l’Americano, brought a smile to my chubby face. They used to call me ‘Botak’ back home and it means ‘baldie’ in Malay. However nobody but one knows of this nickname of mine now – probably because it is so blatantly obvious it is like calling water “wet”.

  2. Fun post Tom! Loves the Mr. testa story :-). Never had a nickname growing up but here on our island my friends call me “Teener” because my husband is from Boston and that’s how he pronounces my name. Not especially exciting but at least it’s something!

  3. like tina, i didn’t have a childhood nickname, but the locals of costa rica call me ‘bruja blanca,’ not only because of my knowledge of medicinal plants, but also because of the five times i’ve been bitten by vampire bats! they give me a broom on full-moon nights and tease, ‘fly home on this, bruja blanca!’

  4. Hubby and I don’t use nicknames for people as much as for local establishments. Our favorite sandwich shop is referred to as the Yuppy Duppy, because well – that is is what it is. A small grocery in Naples is called the “Hoity-Toity” because they have top of the line products and pretty expensive. My favorite, however, is a favorite breakfast joint just up the street from us in Naples. Our neighbors when we were renting called it “Six T…” (rhymes with bits to keep this family oriented) because it was once owned by three sisters. It stuck with Hubby and I and I don’t even know the real name. Makes it a little awkward when we are telling other snowbirds about it.
    Loved reading this post, Tom. I smiled all the way through it – and of course your photography was perfect! Please keep up the good work.

  5. My grandad was the king of nicknames. The kids in my family were Little Sweetypie (me), Roofy (short for Rufus Redhead which was nothing like the real name of my middle brother) and Shorty (youngest brother).

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