Famiglia Ratti: by J. Louis Ratti 27 April, 2003
Many people have contributed information to make this document possible. Thank you everyone!
In order to understand The origins of Surname Ratti, it is first necessary to understand a little about the origins of the Italian language, a little about how surnames came to be used, naming traditions used in Italy, and a little about coats-of-arms.
On the origins of Italian:
The Italian language is a member of the Romance group of languages. Languages of the Romance group are so named because they are derived from the language of the ancient Romans. Italian is spoken principally in the Italian peninsula, southern
Over time, languages evolve. This is due to slow changes in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar that naturally occur over long periods of time. For example, the Old English word modor became the Middle English moder which eventually became the modern English mother. One language may split into two different languages when speakers are separated by physical or cultural barriers for extended periods. When two speakers have noticeable differences in speech but can still understand each other, they are said to be speaking different dialects (a well known example of this is “Southern Drawl” of the south-eastern When they can no longer mutually understand one another, then they are speaking different languages. At one time the Romance languages were all dialects to each other, but have now evolved into the separate languages we know today.
During the long period of the evolution of Italian, many dialects sprang up. The earliest popular Italian documents, dating from the 10th century are dialectal in language. During the following three centuries Italian writers wrote in their native dialects, producing a number of competing regional dialects. During the 14th century the Tuscan dialect began to predominate, because of the central position of Middle Ages and early Renaissance: Dante, Petrarca, and Boccaccio. Mainly for these reasons, this dialect eventually became the Italian spoken today.
On the Origins of names
The Romans first began the practice of using "given-name + clan-name + family-name" about 300 B.C. Unfortunately, that system fell along with the Empire. By the fourth century A.D. there was hardly a middle or last name used anywhere in Europe. Single names dominated the European scene for the next six hundred years. The practice of attaching a word to help identify a man was resurrected in Venice and spread first to France, then England, then Germany -- then to the rest of Europe.
In the English-speaking part of the world, the exact date that surnames began to be adopted can't be pinpointed. The Doomsday Book compiled by William the Conqueror in the 11th century required surnames, but it took several centuries for the use of surnames to become widespread. Hereditary Surnames did not become common until the late 13th century. The primary purpose of the surname was to further distinguish people from one another. In the 13th century about a third of the male population was named William, Richard or John. To uniquely identify them, people began referring to different Williams as William the son of Andrew (leading to Anderson), William the cook (leading to Cook), William from the river (leading to Rivers), or William the brown-haired (leading to Brown). Eventually these surnames became inherited, being passed from parents to children.
Most surnames fall into four categories.
1. Surnames derived from First Names include Johnson, Williams, and Thompson. Most often they are patronymic, referring to a male ancestor, but occasionally they are matronymic.
2. Occupational surnames refer to the occupation of the bearer. Examples include Smith, Clark, and Wright.
3. Locational or Topographic surnames are derived from the place that the bearer lived. Examples include Hill, Woods, and Ford.
4. Surnames derived from nicknames include White, Young, and Long.
The 13th and 14th centuries in Italy were the principle years of "surname taking." Prior to that time, individuals generally had only one name. Distinguishing between two people of the same name would generally require some additional description ("Francesco with the big nose", "Leonardo from Vinci", or "Benidetto's son, Salvatore").
Many Italian names are descriptive or taken from nicknames. During the "surname taking" Italians must have enjoyed identifying one another by physical characteristics. As a result we find names like Rosso, Rossi, Rossetto or Rossini for the ruddy or red-haired person. Moreno, Moretti, or Morello or for one who is dark. (Mor- stands for the dark skinned Moors who for some centuries played a part in the history of Italy). Bianco, lo Bianco or Bianchi was light complected. Longo was tall (as were the women in the Altadonna family) while Basso, Curcio and Piccolo were short. Pardo had gray hair, Argento had silver hair, Riccio or Rizzo curly hair, Caruso close cut hair, Cesario considerable body hair, and Luna had no hair at all. Mancini, Mangini, or Mancuso was left handed. Capone, Caputo, and Testa each had a big head, and Malatesta had a "bad," ugly, or malformed head, while Boccaccio (the name of a great medieval storyteller) had a big mouth. Allegretti was cheerful, Amato was a good friend or a beloved person, and various persons with Bon- or Buono- in their names (Bonomo, Bonanno, Bonaminio, Bongiorno) were recognized for their goodness. Gentile and Graziano were courteous, Furia was extremely bad tempered, while Fantasia was imaginative. Serio was an unusually serious person, and Fatica usually appeared weary or tired. Some names were associated with the ethnic affinities of the bearer. Saraceno was of Arab blood, la Greca was Greek, while Turco was Turkish. Tedesco was of German extraction and Morelli might have actually been African.
A lot (arguably most) of Italian names are patronyms. These are seldom in the same manner as Johnson, although di Giovanni (son of John) is found. More often they are likely to be names of less well known religious figures (especially saints) or important historical persons. Names like: Cisco, Ciccolo, Ciccone (Francis); Giacomo, Chiapetta, Como (James); Nicolosi, Nicoletta, Coletta (Nicolas); diTommaso, Masi, Masello, Massi (Thomas). Sanfilippo is clearly Saint Philip, and Batistelli comes from John the Baptist. Tullio or DiTullio comes from the great Roman orator Tullius Cicero. The Filigenzi's were the "children of Vincenzo."
Italian surnames from occupations are not numerous. Of course there is a smith - Ferraro (-i, -io), Ferrero (-i) or Ferrante. Farina and Mollinaro were millers, and Muratore was a mason. Taglia or Tagliafero was an ironworker, roughly equivalent to the German Eisenhower. Pastore tended sheep, Vaccaro the cows, and Vitelli the veal calves. Martello was a carpenter (the name means "hammer") and Scarpello made shoes. Oliva grew or sold olives. Pisciolo was a fisherman. Pusateri kept a tavern or inn, and Calderone made, sold, or repaired kettles. lo Giudice was a judge, while Talarico was a maker of fine vestments for celebration of the mass.
Place names are moderately frequent. Genovese came from Genoa, di Napoli from Naples, Cipriani and Nicosia from Cyprus. And almost every Sicilian town has a family somewhere sharing its name; Names like Librizzi, Patti, Buscemi and Corleone are all the names of people and places.
On Italian Naming Traditions:
For centuries there has been a strong custom in Italy that determines how children are named:
The first male is named after his paternal grandfather.
The second male is named after his maternal grandfather.
The first female is named after her paternal grandmother.
The second female is named after her maternal grandmother.
This is not always true, but it often is. This naming tradition has an even more important ramifications in genealogical research. Because of the pervasiveness of this custom, you will find many people sharing the same name.
Let's look at the following example:
Vito Ratti marries a woman named Rosa and they have three sons, Pasquale, Domenico and Pietro. Each of these sons marries and has his own children. According to custom, they will all name their first son Vito, after their father, and they will all name their first daughter Rosa, after their mother.
We have three Vito Ratti’s all born in the same town, within the same generation, possibly even born in the same year. The same situation exists for Rosa Ratti. And this is a greatly simplified example since most Italians in this time period had more than three children! All the children would follow this naming tradition, even the daughters, although the daughters would name the second son and second daughter after the maternal grandparents.
This naming tradition is a nightmare for genealogy researchers! Which Vito is the “right” Vito?? This is the reason why I found it necessary to study the genealogy of the entire village of Montarsiccio, just to find out which Vito is the “right” Vito, so to speak. This tradition also has some advantages, very often areas have their own unique Christian names or set of names that follow that person to a town he or she might migrate to. If one sees the same set of Christian names being used, in say, villa A, and then at a later time in villa B, it is highly probable that someone from villa A moved to villa B. This naming tradition can be used (with caution) to “guess” the names of someone’s ancestors.
On Surname Ratti:
Whether one Ratti branch is related to another Ratti branch is a tricky question. One could say they are all related and be correct. If one goes back far enough it can be shown that everyone is related to everyone else somehow. For this reason, we must set reasonable limits to how far back one must go to determine if one branch is related to another branch. By the above discussion, it makes sense to set this limit between the 12th to 14th centuries. By the end of that time frame, surnames were more or less firmly established in all of Europe, coats-of-arms were in use, and there is a fair amount of written information available from that time, from which we can make a reasonable determination about whether one branch is related to another branch.
In Italian, Ratto means “rat”, and Ratti means “rats”. These singular and plural forms were used interchangeably early on, even for the same individual. Later, some families became definitively Ratto, and others Ratti. Today there are also derived forms: Rattaro, Rattazzi, Rattazzo, Rattin, Rattini, Ratton and Rattone. Possibly also the French family names Ratté, Raté, and Rattie. The spelling of Ratti, however, is unique to the Italian language, therefore we can say surname Ratti has its origins in Italy, or in nearby areas where Italian is or was spoken at one time. In German Ratte is rat, and Ratten is rats. In French they are the same as English. In Spanish Rata is rat and Ratas is rats. The Ratti family name probably originated from the word "rattus" (Latin), or "ratto" (Italian), meaning rat. This word has long been used as a nickname in Italy. Several different branches of Ratti can be traced back to the time of “name taking” in Italy during the 13th and 14th centuries. Whether these branches are closely related or not, can not be determined to any degree of certainty, primarily because records prior to this time are very scarce. It is very likely that several different unrelated Ratti branches came into being at the time of the “name taking”.
A study of various Ratti coats-of-arms reveals 2 major Ratti branches were all ready present at the time of the “surname taking” in Italy. I define a distinct branch as one bearing a coat-of-arms where all elements of that coat-of-arms are not similar. If one finds two families that bear the same elements in a coat-of-arms, it is likely that they are somehow related by blood. The degree of similarity between different coats-of-arms is (usually) directly related to how close the two families are related by blood. Coats-of-arms began to be used a few centuries before surnames became popular. The use of coats-of-arms among families followed a strict set of rules. These rules can be used to say something about whether families bearing one coat-of-arms are related to another family bearing a coat-of-arms. Bear in mind that there probably was other branches extant at that time who did not bear coats-of-arms, of these families, we can not really say much, unless we can document their genealogies back to the time of “name taking”, which is rarely possible.
Another factor influencing the determination whether one branch is related to another branch is geography. Up until the 19th century families rarely moved around much. If one finds a large concentration of Ratti in one area, and another concentration some distance away, then it is likely that the two branches are of different origin. By looking at where the Ratti surname is concentrated today, and especially prior to the 19th century, we can also say something about whether those branches are unrelated or not. The further apart these concentrations are and the further back in time we go, the probability that the branches are unrelated increases.
With this in mind let’s take a look at the Ratti Branches by coats-of-arms, geographic proximity, and early records. The main Ratti group has been divided since at least the Middle Ages, into two major lineages: the Ratti Mentone and the Ratti Opizzone. All other minor groups are probably ultimately derived from these two lineages.
The earliest evidence of Surname Ratti is from this branch. Known since the 11th century in the North-West of Italy in the area of Cherasco (close to Cuneo, Piedmont). This branch is called Ratti Mentone after Menton, (presently) France. Coat-of-arms is shown to the left (with a variant to the right). The motto of this branch is: Virtus beatos efficit (Boldness makes blissfulness). Oddino Ratti was Viceroy of Cuneo, 1364; the standard bearer Giovanni Matteo Ratti delivered the coat-of-arms on 4 March 1614.
The main geographic areas inhabited by this branch is North-West Italy, South-East France, Switzerland, and possibly the rest of France and Germany. This branch possibly gives rise to the Ratti, Raté, Ratté, Rat, Racti, and Ract Families of France and Germany. Though it is likely that the Ratté surname has its own origins in Germany. However, in one example at least, it can be shown that surnames Ratti, Ratté, Ratta, Racti, and Ract (Ratti being the oldest) were used interchangeably within a single family from South-Eastern France since the 12th century.
A family in France, bearing this coat-of-arms, has an ancestor, Claude Ratti, who was a companion of Amédée III de Savoie. It is said they both died at Nicosia, Cyprus in 1147 or 1148 during the First Crusades.
The Ratti families of From Mentone, some members of Ratti Mentone probably spread to Nice. There, Carolus Aloysius Ratti (born in 1771) (son of Count Andrea Berengarius Ratti), had two sons: Joseph (1821-1897), (Major General, ADC to King of Sicily), and François Ignace Charles (Chevalier (Knight) Francesco), 1827-1918, land owner. The Ratti family in Nice gave name to the Ratti Avenue and to Villa Ratti. The family migrated (in part) to England nearly in 1860.
A noble lineage in Torre Rossano. Coat-of-arms is shown to the left. Motto: “A buona speranza” (At good hope). This family is originaly from Trino (Vercelli), Italy, then went to Cherasco, Italy. Domenico Ratti, surgeon in Trino, was father of Marcello Ratti, a judge in Cherasco, who then became Mayor of Trino. Marcello married Maddalena Ratti, daughter of the noble Luigi Ratti. Their son Domenico Ratti, born in Trino, 1859, was senator of the Kingdom of Italy, appointed Count in 1887 and finally Marquis of Torre Rossano (an estate in the Cherasco countryside) in 1892.
Progenitor of this branch was Ido Opizzoni, nicknamed “Rato”, who in 1183 was counselor (or Rath in old German) to the German Emperor, Federico Barbarossa. Known in Italy since the 13th century in the Tortona, Alessandria, and Piedmont areas with main residences in Tortona, Torino, and Reggio Emilia. Recorded in heraldry also as Opizzoni family from Milan. Coat-of-arms is shown to the left. This family gave the name to two villages (Torre de’ Ratti, and Castel Ratti) in Borbera Valley (formerly called Val de’ Rati) in the district of Alessandria (Piedmont).
The main geographic areas inhabited by this branch is also North-West Italy but mostly in the southern areas of this region. The origin of the Ratti surname in this case is a nickname. From “Rath in ancient German to “Rato”, then to “Ratti”
The Duke of Milan on 24 May 1413 bestowed to the brothers Antonio and Giovanni Ratti Opizzoni with the dominion of Villa di Tozze, Castel de’ Ratti, Persio, Cerreto, and Liveto, all are located in the territory of Borghetto di Borbera (Alessandria).
Castel de’ Ratti (Castello Torre Ratti as it is known today, in the lower Val Borbera, was built before 1155. On the outer stony walls of the castle it is sculptured the family coat-of-arms. From this branch comes Alberto Ratti Oppizzone (recorded 1602), one of the famous Knights of Malta. Today the castle is a fine hotel.
Ratti Winery, at Annunziata Abbey, La Morra, Ratti, can be found here at the Abby.
Pope Pius XI (Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti) was related to the Ratti Opizzoni family. Pope Pius XI's ancestors did not come from nobility. His parents were just ordinary citizens. His father was a silk manufacturer. When Pope Pius XI was ordained Pope he made a request of his relatives, the Ratti Opizzoni, family for the use of their family Crest. Luigi Franco Amedeo Ratti Opizzoni granted the Pope's request. (Some researchers believe the Pope may have actually been descended from the Counts of the Ratti Mentone family, but the evidence for this is in dispute.) Some of the Pope’s family followed him to Rome when he became Pope, and about 60 Ratti families currently live in and around Rome. Pope Achille Ratti appointed the title of Count to his nephew, Francesco Ratti. The Ratti family has been recorded in and around Rome at least since the 18th century: in 1797 the abbot Nicola Ratti printed his “History of Genzano”, a village in the district of Rome.
Other famous members of this branch include: Carlo Alberto Ratti, valiant army leader, died in Flanders; Bernardo Ratti (1414 - 1477), professor of jurisprudence; Giovanni Parini Ratti (born 1515), soldier; Onorato Ratti Oppizzone (died 1573), lawyer; Antonio Ratti Oppizzone (recorded 1653), jurist and orator; Carlo Ratti Oppizzone, cardinal (first half of 19th Century).
The Ratti family name has been recorded in Genoa (in the singular Latin form Rattus) since 1159. Where it is part of the Genoa aristocracy. A section of Genoa, where the family had its possessions, is still today named Borgoratti or Borgaratti, (burgum is latin for “village”) and a Via Ratti (Ratti Avenue) runs through it.
Coat-of-arms: top, a crowned black eagle on a golden background; bottom, three red balls on a golden background. (Left.) It is clearly similar to that of the Ratti Opizzone from Tortona.
The Genoa branch (being slightly older as far as records go) is probably actually a separate branch from Ratti Opizzone because the origins of the surname from this branch seems to have been of patronymic origin. (One might say “true” Ratti instead of “nicknamed” Ratti). I have included them here because of the similarities in the coats-of-arms of both groups. The mystery here is on one hand you have a member of the Opizzone family in Tortona, who gave rise to a Ratti branch because of a nickname, (in 1183), and on the other hand, in Genoa, we have Ratti recorded some 25 years earlier in 1159 seemingly as a patronymic name. Two very different origins. This begs the questions: Are these branches truly related? If not, why the similarity in coats-of-arms? Hopefully future research will answer these questions definitively.
Other probable members of the Genoa Branch (based on geographic proximity) include:
The Ratti families of Savona, Italy: A famous representative was Giovanni Agostino Ratti, born in Savona (Liguria), 1699, died in Genoa, 1775, painter and engraver. His works are in several churches of Torino, Savona, Spotorno, Albisola, Pegli, and in the church of Santa Croce in Genoa. His son, Carlo Giuseppe Ratti, born in Savona 1737, died in Genoa 1795, painted frescos in the ceiling of the little hall of the Duke’s Palace in Genoa. Michele Ratti, book-binder, is recorded in Vernazza, 1468.
The Ratti families of Voghera, Italy: Close to Voghera, Pavia, Lombardy, is Borgoratto Mormorolo, a village named from the Ratti family.
The Ratti families of Piacenza, Italy: First records of the occurrence of the Ratti family in Piacenza (Emilia) date back to 16th century. Giovanni Giacomo Ratti and Zanino Ratti in 1558, Giovanni Battista Ratti and Lorenzo Ratti in 1576. Two places in the city still bear the name: the slope called ‘Montà di Ratt’ at the end of Via Mazzini, and the church, now destroyed, of San Martino in Borgo also called “San Martino dei Ratti”. A noble Ratti family lived in Piacenza for two centuries (from 1600 to 1800) and at present appears to be extinct or migrated. Its origin is uncertain, but it is probably connected with the Ratti families of the Tortona, Bobbio, the lower Lombardy and the Emilia. The centuries-old possessions in Ascona (Santo Stefano d’Aveto), small village in the High Ligurian Appennines (at the border between Piacenza and Bobbio areas) in the Aveto Valley are significant.
Another branch migrated to Piacenza around 1640; its members were goldsmiths. Coat-of-arms: top, a black eagle in a golden background (as Ratti Opizzone); bottom, a black rat in a golden background. It is similar to the coat-of-arms of the Rattazzi family from Alessandria (the latter is enriched by a median light-blue strip with three silver stars).
The Ratti family from Montarsiccio (Bedonia, province of Parma), only ten miles distant from Ascona and Santo Stefano d’Aveto, probably has the same origin as the Piacenza family.
This family known since the 15th century was mentioned in Premana, as a noble branch of the Lizoli family that was nicknamed Ratti. Their Coat-of-arms to the left is clearly very different than the other Ratti coats-of-arms nor even contains elements from other Ratti coats-of-arms.
The main geographic areas inhabited by this branch is also North-Central Italy and areas to the East of this region, extending all the way into Venice. The origin of the Ratti surname in this case is a nickname. From “Ratino” to “Ratto”, then to “Ratti
The first records concern Zanino nicknamed Ratino (mentioned 1463) and his brother Cristoforo nicknamed Ratto (notary in Premana, 1485), both sons of Sir Antonio Lizoli. For at least a century, family name and nickname were employed either separately or associated: records are given of Giarino, Nicolao and Jacomo Ratto (1558) ; Giovanni Antonio Lizoli or Ratto or Lizoli de Ratti (1610) ; Cristoforo de Ratti or Ratti or Ratto (1610) and Giulio Lizoli Ratto or de Ratti (1602), both sons of the late Giovanni Antonio Ratti, owners and tenants of iron mines. Before 1650 the nickname Ratti became definitively a family name in Premana. In the second half of 17th century branches of the family migrated to Venice, firstly as blacksmiths or coppersmiths, then as ironmongers.
Descendants still keep in their family archive a coat-of-arms very similar to the coat-of-arms of the Liccioli family from Florence, nobles of Fiesole, recorded since 14th century. The tree, illustrated in their coat-of-arms, is probably an olm-oak tree (in Italian: leccio), so the family name Liccioli. It is therefore possible that a branch of the Liccioli family migrated to Premana before 1400, and changed the family name to Lizoli/Lizzoli (following the local dialect). At present time this Ratti family branch is only represented in Premana, in Venice, and in Montevideo (Uruguay: descendants of Giovanni Domenico Ratti, migrated from Venice in 1870).
However there is some (strong) contradictory evidence to this: A Ratti family from Piuro, Sondrio, (not far from Premana) gave the name to "Valle dei Ratti" in the territory of the municipality of Verceia (province of Sondrio). Marco Ratti, son of Antonio, is mentioned 1426; 20 or 30 years later are mentioned 3 brothers, sons of Giovanni Ratti: sir Giacomo, sir Antonio and sir Gaudenzio. Giacomo had two sons: Gaudenzio (jr.) and Pietro (mentioned 1494); Antonio had a son, Tomaso, husband of Lucia Ravalcada (1506). Most of the Christian names from this Piuro family (Antonio, Giovanni, Giacomo, Pietro) are the same Christian names as the Ratti from Premana of 15th and 16th century. This suggests that the Ratti from Premana are actually a branch of the Piuro Ratti’s. The coat-of-arms from the Piuro Ratti family (left) bears some elements of the Ratti Opizzone coats-of-arms. It is highly probable that ultimately the members of the Ratti Lizoli branch actually belong to the Ratti of Piuro, who belong to the Ratti Opizzone branch. Perhaps some of the Piuro Ratti’s became closely allied with the Lizoli family who adopted Ratti as a nickname, who then used a variant of the Liccioli coat-of-arms. (If one takes the Liccioli coat-of-arms from Florence, and superimposes the Ratti from Piuro coat-of-arms, then remove the imperial black eagle on the top and the two rats on the side of the castle. You will obtain the coat of arms of the Ratti (de Lizoli) from Premana). In 1618 a landslide completely buried the town of Piuro; this seems to coincide with the arrival at Piacenza (circa 1640) of the Ratti goldsmiths bearing a similar coat-of-arms as the Piuro Ratti’s. My guess is they were forced to move because of the landslide. The Ratti Goldsmiths of Piacenza are probably related to the Piuro Ratti’s (or vice versa). Further research into this possibility is on-going.
John Louis Ratti
Didier R. Ract Madoux