The Renaissance was a huge cultural movement that marked a shift in the way people saw themselves and the world. The most beloved art and architecture of the era are typically centered around what we now think of as Italy, however, at the time, there was no unified country. Instead, major city-states like Genoa, Milan, Florence, and Venice were the places where tastemakers and free-thinkers flourished. Each one of these unique cities developed their own naming styles and trends and gave us some of the most adored baby names that we still love today.
We decided to take a deep dive into Renaissance baby names to discover which names were popular from the 14-17th centuries. Not only were we after the most favored names of the age, but we focused on names that modern parents would want to use today. These names are storied, romantic, and bustling with the energy of a time when societies were rapidly changing and striving to shake off the past. However, as with all names, these monikers came from a tradition so these names balanced the old with the new. Here are 25 unique Renaissance names for boys inspired by the artisans, poets, thinkers, and sacred people of one of the most exciting times in Western history.
Before we enjoyed the name Angelo, there was Agnolo, a popular Florentine name of the time that means “angel.” Agnolo Gaddi is a famed Renaissance painter from Florence who enjoyed this name.
Another Florentine name, Alessio was enjoyed broadly from the 1400-1500s. A popular trend of the Renaissance was to resurrect old Greek and Roman names and outfit them for the day. Alessio is one such example and is a form of the Greek name, Alexis which means “defender.”
Carlo was a popular Venetian name of the time and has persisted until today as an Italian classic. Carlo, of course, is a form of English/French name Charles. You wouldn’t just encounter a Carlo in Venice, Carlo also became a popular name in Aragon and Spanish Naples.
Cosimo de Medici was the first of the Medici dynasty to wield power in Florence during much of the Italian Renaissance and was noted for his patronage of the arts. Cosimo was a very hot name at the time. Cosimo found its way to Italian by way of the Greek cosmos which means “order” or “universe.” It’s a pretty cosmic name.
Domenico Ghirlandaio painted in the Florentine court and the artist’s name spread far and wide. Domenico became the preferred form of the name for both Italian and Spanish speakers. It, of course, shares the same Latin root as Dominic a name that means “belonging to the lord.”
Filippo is an Italian classic that was as a beloved by Renaissance parents as it is today. In Italy, the name is currently in the top 25 most popular names for boys. Filippo is a much more fun version of the Greek name Philip and was a trendy name in Milan at the time. The name means “lover of horses.” If you choose this name for your son, you get the wonderful nicknames Pip or Flip to call your baby.
Francesco was a ubiquitous name at the time with a great number of boys given the name in Milan, Venice, and Urbino. The name is currently the number 1 pick for parents in Italy. Francesco means “free man.” Francesco Petrarca, commonly anglicized as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar and poet during the early Italian Renaissance, and one of the earliest humanists. He’s credited as being the founder of Renaissance humanism.
Caspar is the name of one of the Three Magi who brought gifts to the infant Jesus, Caspar of Tarsus was the one who brought the gift of gold. This Persian name transformed to Gasparo in the Italian tongue and it became a widely beloved choice in Venice. The name means “keeper of the treasure.”
Giorgio is the Italian answer to the ancient Greek name, Geōrgios. Giorgio was a favorite name in Renaissance Florence and in Italy today, it continues to shine. Giorgio Vasari was an artist, writer, and historian who is credited with creating the foundation for art-historical writing. As lofty as that sounds, Giorgio’s first name means “farmer.”
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Giovanni was one of the most common names found in Milan and Venice. As with most names on this list, Giovanni is still widely used in Italy. It has recently, however, climbed the ranks in the US and became the 142 most popular name in 2019. It’s a form of the name John. For some reason, Americans really love to mispronounce this name. It’s said joh-VAHN-nee. As with John, the name means “God is gracious.”
Florentine name, Giulio is still an Italian favorite and would be a great option for American parents looking for alternatives to Julian and Julius. Giulio, of course, shares the same root as Julius and means “youthful” or “downy-bearded.” Giulio Romano was an artist and architect who helped define the Renaissance style called mannerism.
A popular Venetian name of the time that’s fallen from favor, Jacopo is an amazing option and alternative to Jacob. Not only does it sound amazing, Jacopo means “supplanter.” Jacopo de’ Barbari is a famed example who moved from Venice to Italy in the early 1500s becoming one of the first to bring the delights of Italian art to Northern Europe.
For centuries this name was associated primarily with the towering figure of Italian Renaissance painter, scientist, and inventor Leonardo da Vinci and was scarcely used outside the Latin culture. But, things have changed since then. Leonardo is now one of the most popular names for boys in the US and more broadly in English-speaking countries around the world.
Lorenzo is a Spanish and Italian classic that’s currently trending in the US now. The name was most popular in Renaissance Venice. The name can be traced back to the ancient Romans who used the name to describe a person “from Laurentium.”
Luca is an extremely old name that’s coming back today in a big way. Parents are choosing this name now more than ever in the US and seeing it as a gender-neutral option. Like Lorenzo, Luca is a name that describes a place. Luca is a form of Lucas which means “man from Lucania.” Luca Signorelli is a notable Italian Renaissance painter and draftsman whose frescoes can be found in Siena, Cortona, Rome, and Arezzo.
Marsilio might be a new name to you. It’s an antique form of Marcello. The name was wildly popular in Venice and we can easily understand why. The name is based on a Latin name and means “dedicated to Mars.” Marsilio Ficino is considered one of the Renaissance’s most influential philosophers and scholars. He was the first to translate Plato’s complete extant works into Latin.
If you were from Verona, you had a good chance of getting the handsome name, Matteo. This name is increasingly beloved in English-speaking and has long been a mainstay for Spanish-speaking communities. Matteo shares the same root as Matthew and means “gift of God.”
You might think Michelangelo was the preferred form of Michael in Renaissance Italy, but its cousin, Michele was actually the more popular moniker. Michele will forever be confused with the female form of the name for English-speakers so it’s no surprise that parents have strayed from this truly impressive name. It means “who is like God?”
Many men from Ferrara and Florence enjoyed the name, Niccolo. One famous example who is somewhat infamous is Niccolò Machiavelli. He’s now considered the father of modern political philosophy and political science. Niccolo is the perfect name, in part, because it rhymes with piccolo. The Italian name comes by way of the Greek, Nicolas and means “victorious.”
Renaissance painters Uccello and Veronese were two famous Paolos of the day. The name is said to have originated in Verona where it was based on the same root as Paul. We like the romantic sound of Paolo much better than the English counterpart. The name means “small.”
Piero della Francesca is probably the best known Piero of the day. He is noted for his, then, novel use of perspective in his paintings. This wonderful Florentine name deserves its own Renaissance! We don’t hear it often enough these days and it’s completely wonderful. The name is a variation of Peter and means “rock.”
You probably know the name Prospero as the protagonist of William Shakespeare‘s play The Tempest. This Renaissance name was used by Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish speakers of the time. The name can be traced back to ancient Rome where it was used to describe “prosperity” or “favor.” This name was a particular favorite in Bologna.
Painter Masaccio was known by the single-name moniker by the time of his death. However, the artist was born Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone. Which is a mouthful, so we could see the attraction there. Tommasso is the beautiful Italian form of Thomas that means “twin.”
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Ugo as the Italian and Spanish answer to names like Hugh and Hugo. Ugo was an extremely popular choice of the day and we don’t see why it can’t be true now. Ugo is a casual and carefree name that contains the verb “go” which gives it a good bit of pep. This name means “mind” or “intellect.”
The most famed Renaissance Ulisse was Ulisse Aldrovandi from Bologna. He was responsible for one of Europe’s first botanical gardens. He’s considered the father of natural history studies. Ulisse is a name that can be traced to the Latin Ulysses and before that the Greek Odysseus. You’ll remember this name as coming from Homer‘s epic saga. The name means “wrathful” but don’t let that steer you from the name.
There you go! 25 names inspired by the Italian Renaissance that can be traced back to the most popular names in major city-states of the time.
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