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What’s in a Name?

I had a Russian professor, Dr. O (may he RIP), who once gave an entire lecture on names.  I have been fascinated ever since by the origin, meaning and construction of a surname.  For example, my surname Mancinelli, translates literally as  “small, left-handed ones” .  The construction consists of three elements:  man (from the Latin for ‘hand’ or ‘hand-related’), cin (from the Latin sinistre for ‘left’; and the Italian diminutive form, -elli.  So, I think that construction and the superficial meaning are explained.  Origin?  Who knows.  History, especially in Italy, has thousands of players, invisible to the present.  My guess is this:  my ancestors were little people who were left-handed.  OK, so maybe not so superficial as much as transparent in meaning.  I surrender.   There are the outliers, of course, statistics being what they are.  More interesting, however, is what I discovered through some very simple genealogical research.  I traced our name back to 15th century Italy and met “Uncle Antonio” (1452-1505).  Uncle Antonio was a humanist, rhetorician, grammarian, and teacher, active in Orvieto, Venice and Rome.  He was a very well-respected Latin scholar, an itinerant professor-type.  Then I met “Uncle Luigi” (1848-1921).  He was an orchestral conductor, piano professor at the Bologna Conservatory, born in Orvieto, died in Rome, and a well-respected musician who was associated with opera and the music of Richard Wagner.  So, who cares, right?  Moveable Beats + Uncle Antonio + Uncle Luigi + a bunch of Italian shorties who use their left hands = HUH?  Here’s the grooviness of this whole stew.  Across the centuries, I, like many other family members, have carried this jewel box within us and have found a way to display the contents:  music, words, and an appreciation of the power and beauty–the necessity of language.   But what was our artistic and linguistic history before Uncle Antonio?  Were we warriors for the word?  Or was he a new creation from a long line of little left-handed folks who made things for sale or shoveled donkey shit on a farm in the Marche?  Was he tall?  I believe in the magic of the name, its alchemical potential, and the portrait that it creates of the holder.  But sometimes it is a crown with holes.  Sometimes, it’s not enough to represent the persona.  In those cases, a poem.

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