Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff


with 3 comments

When I was a kid, my last name was the reason why I always found myself involved in schoolyard fights.

I was constantly called, ‘nanny goat, granny nanni, nanny no no, ninny’ or whatever variation of  NANNI they felt was funny enough to their buddies laughing and chanting the insult in unison. At first I laughed along with them, but after a while, my temper got the best of me. It was tough being Italian in Toronto in the forties.

The end result of my frustration varied between broken glasses, scrapes, bruises, torn t-shirts and the occasional bloodied nose. At recess the schoolyard monitor shadowed me because my frequent outbursts had branded me a troublemaker. There wasn’t much else I could do but fight to show the pack that I was no push over. They had to know that messing with my name had consequences. Eventually it worked. Eventually my surname became by badge, my tag, my nickname, and my reputation that I was a kid of honour. After a couple of months, when I came out for recess or after school they would shout, “hey NANNI, we’re playing Red Rover…you’re on our side.”

Retribution! Besides, it was a lot better than, “hey Wop!”

The NANNI name is a derivative of GIOVANNI. At some point it was shortened to VANNI and somehow became NANNI. There is also a stream of thought that says it might be a derivative of BONANNO – which became NANNO – which became NANNI. Take your pick. Whatever its origin – NANNI is my family’s surname…pronounced NANN – E.

The NANNI men came to Canada pre World War Two. A good number of them settled in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Our surname faced a major challenge when the NANNI men began working at Algoma Steel and the pulp and paper mill. The English foremen and bosses addressed everyone by their last name. And for some reason began emphasizing the last letter or our name making it NAN – EYE. This annoyed my family to the point where they changed the I to E to coincide with the pronunciation they were hearing every day.

Which brings me to the photo below.

Notice anything? It appears the change in spelling has stuck with some. Or the newspaper people are making the same mistake as those foremen at the steel plant. I asked my cousin who is building the family tree if he knew why this happened. He had no idea.

Even today, especially in the Soo, there are two spellings to our last name. Even in my own family. I still adhere to the original N-A-N-N-I.

My brother goes by N-A-N-N-E.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

August 14, 2012 at 5:10 PM

3 Responses

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  1. Nice post and a nice look back into the family history. My better half is a genealogist. She did some digging into our past. My family had thought that the Bofins were descendants of French invaders who came to the west of Ireland in 1798. However, the records went way back before that and I can boast not French aristocracy but mud hut living Letrim Irish.

    Conor Bofin

    August 14, 2012 at 5:25 PM

    • Yeah. I know how you feel. The Nanni folks are all farmers. The ones that were better off had olive groves. Thanks for reading.


      August 14, 2012 at 5:31 PM

  2. Ed, loved your blog on your family name(s). It made me smile at the end of it. I’m sure you know why.

    Keep on blogging. I love reading them.

    Annette Francisco


    September 14, 2012 at 7:51 PM

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