February 12, 2012

The Name of Santorum

Rick Santorum can trace his roots back to Riva del Garda, Italy 

Photo courtesy: BBC
Do you like stories about famous people’s origins? Here is an interesting story about one of the four remaining Republican candidates running for the 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination, the former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. This is, of course, also a story about the vast opportunities that America presents to every generation of immigrants, since Rick Santorum’s grandfather, Pietro, who has been described by the Republican candidate as being inspirational for his presidential campaign, left the Northern Italy town of Riva del Garda for America in 1920 because he was worried about the rise to power of Benito Mussolini. In short, as the BBC’s Christine Finn reports, there is a family in Riva del Garda which has recently discovered they are related to Rick Santorum.

As a matter of fact Santorum, unlike in the rest of the country (Italy has the largest collection of surnames in the world, with over 350,000!), is an old surname in the Riva del Garda area, about as common as Smith is in America.

By the way, do you know what the real meaning and origin of Santorum surname is? Well, it derives from the Latin word Sanctus (Saint), whose genitive plural is Sanctorum, which stands for Sanctorum Omnium, which in turn stands for dies festus Sanctorum Omnium (the Feast of All Saints). This family name, in other words, is possibly connected to someone acting as a saint, or who has connection with religious things (a sacristan), or to someone who was born on the festival day of All Saints.

Another possible explanation is that Santorum might have been a surname given to foundlings, as Temple, for one example, was commonly given as a surname to foundlings left at the Temple of London. In Italy there is a group of names recognized by educated people as originally given to illegitimates left at the church door. Some of this names are Esposito (ex-posed), Proietti (from the Latin proicio, to throw away), Innocente or Innocenti (as in innocent of their father’s sin), De Benedictis, De Benedetti, De Sanctis, Della Croce, etc.

This kind of surnames was chosen by religious institutions or, after the establishment of Civil Records, by the civil officer.

As another example, the surname Eco, as Italian semiotician, essayist, and novelist Umberto Eco (the author of The Name of the Rose)once recalled, was taken from the first letters of the phrase, “ex coelis oblatus,” a Latin phrase meaning “a gift from the heavens”—hey, by saying this  I'm  not remotely suggesting that Rick Santorum is a gift from the heavens, I'm just bringing up some analogies... But then again, who knows?