In Milan, more residents answer to Hu than Ferrari

A list of the most common names in Milan revealed the extent to which immigration has changed the character of the business-oriented city. 

Alessandro Garofalo/REUTERS
A man checks job offers outside a recruitment agency in downtown Milan, Italy, April 3.

For decades the family name of “Brambilla” has been by far the most common in Milan – to the point that throughout Italy, where family names were originally strongly associated with geography, people still jokingly refer to Milan folks as “Mister Brambillas” or “Sciur Brambilla” (“sciur” being the world for “Sir” in Milanese dialect). 

So when the local council published a list of the most common names in the city last week, many were surprised to find out that Milan has many more residents known as “Mister Hu” than “Mister Brambilla.”

Among the ten most common family names in Milan, three were of Chinese origin, pointing out how ethnically diverse this city in northern Italy has become. On the list, “Rossi," a name common in Italy but not closely associated with the North, comes first, while Hu, of Chinese origin, is a close second. They are followed by five other typically Italian (but not typical specifically of Milan) names. In eighth is another Chinese name, Chen, while uber-Milanese “Brambilla” comes only ninth, followed by yet another Chinese name, Zhou.

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In the last three decades, a growing numbers of migrants, both from the rest of Italy and from abroad, have settled in Milan, mostly drawn by job prospects in the most business-oriented region of the country. Today one in every five Milan residents is either a foreign national or a descendant of migrant workers.

The Chinese community is one of the oldest in the city, dating back to the first wave of the immigration in the early 1900s. While some other nationalities, particularly from Eastern Europe and North Africa, are more numerous, Chinese names are predominant because there is less variety among last names.

“To us this whole comes as no surprise,” Luigi Sun, a representative of Milan's Chinese community of Milan, told the daily newspaper Republica. “We have known for a long time Hu is one of the most common names in the city. We have more serous stuff to think about.”

The most common names in Milan: 

  1. Rossi (Italy's most common name)
  2. Hu (Chinese)
  3. Colombo (most common in northern Italy, but not necessarily associated with Milan; the famous explorer Cristoforo Colombo, known in English as Christopher Columbus, was from Genoa)
  4. Ferrari (associated both with central and northern Italy)
  5. Bianchi (another very common name throughout the country)
  6. Russo (a variant of Rossi)
  7. Villa (a typical Milan name)
  8. Chen (Chinese)
  9. Brambilla (once thought to be Milan's most common name)
  10. Zhou (Chinese)

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