Do Italian last names with della/delle &c. indicate nobility?

I was just reading this article, and I wanted to add that my parents tell me those names that begin with “Mal-”, like Malfara, Malatesta &c. indicate that somewhere along the line, there was an orphan. Orphans would get left with nuns or something like that (usually anonymously) and the nuns would name the kids. I guess the nuns didn’t always like the kids, so they would give them names beginning with “Mal-” because that means “bad.” I don’t know if this is actually true, or if the same holds for those last names beginning with “Buon-” (as in Buonfiglio &c.) for the kids the nuns did like. I just thought it might be interesting to look at the flipside of this topic.


Welcome, nisi! Just so everyone knows what you’re talking about, it’s a good idea to post a link to the original column.

Yeah, welcome to the Straight Dope, don’t forget the link, etc…

As this column illustrates, one of the amazing things about Cecil is his ability to work flatulence into topics as diverse as Italian nomenclature and Swiss cheese.