Italian word of the day: ‘Onomastico’

Italian word of the day: 'Onomastico'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Today's word is for the Italian anniversary you didn't even know you had.

Congratulations: in Italy, you might get an extra excuse to party each year.

Along with your birthday, the other day you get to celebrate is your onomastico, or ‘name day’. 

Click below to hear it pronounced:

The word comes from the Greek ónoma, ‘name’, and it’s technically an adjective that roughly means ‘related to a name or naming’. 

Italians use it to refer to your giorno onomastico, ‘name day’, which most people cut down to simply l’onomastico

According to the country’s Catholic traditions, your name day is the feast day of whichever saint you’re named after (because naturally you’re named after a saint). 

The calendar of saints is pretty packed, so multiple saints might have their anniversary on the same day – or you might share your name with several different saints, in which case your parents would just have to settle on their favourite and stick to it. (Today’s, in case you’re interested, is Saint Catherine of Sweden.)

And especially in families where first names are passed down through the generations, you could find yourself celebrating your onomastico alongside several of your relatives.

Oggi è il mio onomastico.
Today’s my name day.

Buon onomastico! Auguri per l’onomastico!
Happy name day! Best wishes on your name day!

Not that everybody celebrates at all: many Italians couldn’t even tell you when their name day is, and even those who know don’t necessarily mark it.

It’s traditionally a bigger deal in the south of Italy, and especially Naples, where the name-day girl or boy (or their parents) is expected to offer sweet treats to friends and family who come to pay their respects. 

But what if you don’t happen share a name with a Catholic saint? In that case you’re said to have un nome adespoto, ‘a masterless name’, but you still get a day for it: you can choose to celebrate your onomastico on November 1st, All Saints’ Day, which serves as a kind of catch-all for everyone who doesn’t have a name day of their own.

See our complete Word of the Day archive here.

Do you have a favourite Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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