Why do we call Galileo Galilei by his first name?

Published on August 20th, 2009 | by Admin

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galileo

Slate answers an interesting question: Why do we always refer to Galileo Galilei by his first name?

Because that’s how he referred to himself. At the time of Galileo’s birth in 1564, surnames were optional in Italy. In daily interactions, an Italian would use the name his parents gave him at birth—what we’d now call a first name—and, if further clarification were required, add on his father’s name (like di Antonio, or “son of Antonio”), his birthplace (Romano, or “from Rome”), his occupation (Pannetierre, meaning “baker”), or a traditional family surname (if one existed, like Galilei).

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