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The Wikipedia page for the Decameron claims (without citations) that:

Boccaccio himself notes that the names he gives for these ten characters are in fact pseudonyms chosen as "appropriate to the qualities of each". The Italian names of the seven women, in the same (most likely significant) order as given in the text, are Pampinea, Fiammetta, Filomena, Emilia, Lauretta, Neifile, and Elissa. The men, in order, are Panfilo, Filostrato, and Dioneo.

I found the claimed note of Boccaccio in the text (Rigg's translation, emphasis mine):

Their names I would set down in due form, had I not good reason to withhold them, being solicitous lest the matters which here ensue, as told and heard by them, should in after time be occasion of reproach to any of them, in view of the ample indulgence which was then, for the reasons heretofore set forth, accorded to the lighter hours of persons of much riper years than they, but which the manners of to-day have somewhat restricted; nor would I furnish material to detractors, ever ready to bestow their bite where praise is due, to cast by invidious speech the least slur upon the honour of these noble ladies. Wherefore, that what each says may be apprehended without confusion, I intend to give them names more or less appropriate to the character of each. The first, then, being the eldest of the seven, we will call Pampinea, the second Fiammetta, the third Filomena, the fourth Emilia, the fifth we will distinguish as Lauretta, the sixth as Neifile, and the last, not without reason, shall be named Elisa.

I don't speak Italian. What do these names signify, and how does this relate to the nature of the characters?


The answer to this may be connected to my previous question, but then again it may not. I think they're worth separate questions: that one is about a specific claim on what the characters represent, this one is about their names, which don't seem connected to Prudence, Justice, etc.

1 Answer 1

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Yes, the names of the ten narrators of the novellas have been chosen by Boccaccio to tell us something about their personality.

This is what is said in the note to the text you have emphasized in BUR version of the Decameron (Italian original), edited by Amedeo Quondam, Maurizio Fiorilla and Giancarlo Alfano:

Nomen omen: il nome di una persona ne segna il destino, dicevano gli Antichi. E questi nomi colti e letterari (anche per antica funzione retorica, oltre che per intrecci intertestuali e metaletterari tutti interni alle opere boccacciane), come poi quelli dei tre giovani e dei loro servitori, dovrebbero, nelle intenzioni dell’autore, marcare la personalità di ciascuna delle loro titolari: e se sono proposte come persone reali (§ 49-50), nelle dinamiche costitutive del testo, come i tre giovani, saranno funzioni primarie, necessarie e dinamiche, della narrazione.

The above note begins with the Latin phrase nomen omen or nomen est omen, 'the name is a sign'. I will try to translate what it follows:

a person's name marks their fate, the Ancients said. And these cultured and literary names (also for ancient rhetorical function, as well as for intertextual and metaliterary intertwining all internal to Boccaccio's works), as well as those of the three young men and their servants, should, in the intentions of the author, mark the personality of each of their owners: and if they are proposed as real persons (§ 49-50), in the constitutive dynamics of the text, as happens with the three young men, they will be primary, necessary and dynamic functions of the narration.

You can find some information about the meaning of such names in the website of the project Scuola OnLine. This is a project which aims to produce free study materials for schools. I have read those ones devoted to Boccaccio's Decameron and I believe they have a quite good quality. This is what you can read about the names of the seven young women:

I nomi delle giovani sono stati oggetto di numerosi studi. Tra le più accreditate etimologie vi sono le seguenti: “la rigogliosa” (Pampinea), “l’ardente di passione” (Fiammetta), “l’amata” o “l’amante del canto” (Filomena), “la lusinghiera” (Emilia), “la nuova innamorata” (Neifile); per Elissa (nome con cui è tradizionalmente designata Didone) appare chiaro il significato di “amante infelice”; il nome di Lauretta allude evidentemente alla donna amata da Petrarca. È da notare che i nomi di Pampinea, Emilia, Fiammetta ed Elissa erano già presenti nelle opere giovanili di Boccaccio.

My translation:

The names of the young women have been the subject of numerous studies. Some of the most accredited etymologies are the following: "the luxuriant" (Pampinea), "the ardent of passion" (Fiammetta), "the beloved" or "the lover of singing" (Filomena), "the flattering" (Emilia), “the new lover” (Neifile); for Elissa (name with which Dido is traditionally designated) the meaning of "unhappy lover" appears clear; Lauretta's name evidently alludes to the woman Petrarch loved. It should be noted that the names of Pampinea, Emilia, Fiammetta and Elissa were already present in Boccaccio's early works.

A little further on you can read this information on the meaning of the names of the three young men:

Anche in questo caso, come si è già visto per le donne, gli pseudonimi hanno valore allusivo: Panfilo (“tutto amore”) è l’amante felice al contrario di Filostrato (“vinto d’amore”). Dioneo è invece “il venereo” (Dione era il padre della dea Venere): il suo nome allude a una gaudente sensualità. I nomi di Panfilo e Filostrato sono presenti nelle opere giovanili di Boccaccio.

My translation:

Also in this case, as we have already seen for women, pseudonyms have an allusive value: Panfilo ("all love") is the happy lover as opposed to Filostrato ("conquered by love"). Dioneo is instead "the venereal" (Dione was the father of the goddess Venus): his name alludes to a joyful sensuality. The names of Panfilo and Filostrato are present in Boccaccio's early works.

And this is what Professor Asor Rosa explains about the names of the three young men at minute 6:08 of the first part of episode 3 of the radio program "Leggere il Decamerone":

Entrano in scena infatti i tre giovani congiunti o da parentela o da amistà o da amore con alcuna delle sette fanciulle in precedenza presentate. Anche qui abbiamo tre nomi che alludono a qualche significato simbolico: Dioneo sarebbe "il lussurioso", dal nome del padre di Venere, Dione; Filostrato, ossia "l'abbattuto da amore", è il tittolo di un poemetto giovanile di Boccaccio; Panfilo, ossia "il tutto amore", è anche il nome del protagonista infedele dell'Elegia di Madonna Fiammetta precedentemente ricordata. In questo caso un'ipotesi secondo me sostenibile è che i tre personaggi rappresentino tre diverse caratteristiche dello spirito e forse anche dell'erotismo boccacciano, cioè siano tre diverse proiezioni del suo modo di praticare, godere l'amore.

My translation:

The three young men join the scene, in fact, either from kinship or from friendship or from love with any of the seven young women previously presented. Here too we have three names that allude to some symbolic meaning: Dioneo would be "the lustful", from the name of Venus's father, Dione; Filostrato, that is "the disheartened by love", is the title of an early poem by Boccaccio; Panfilo, or "the all love", is also the name of the betrayer protagonist of The Elegy of Lady Fiammetta previously mentioned. In this case, a sustainable hypothesis in my opinion is that the three characters represent three different characteristics of the spirit and perhaps also of Boccaccio's eroticism, that is, they are three different projections of his way of practicing, enjoying love.

There is also some information about the meaning of the names of the seven young women in the book Cuori intelligenti. Mille anni di letteratura: dalle origini al Rinascimento by Claudio Giunta:

Pampinea: cioè "la rigogliosa", che compare anche nella Comedìa delle ninfe fiorentine e nel Buccolicum carmen.

Fiammetta: personaggio presente in varie opere, dal Filocolo all'Elegia di madonna Fiammetta, di cui è la protagonista. Probabilmente si tratta di una donna realmente amata da Boccaccio.

Filomena: cioè "l'amata o l'amante del canto", dedicataria del Filocolo.

Emilia: "la lusinghiera" (un personaggio con questo nome compare in varie opere di Boccaccio, dal Teseida all'Amorosa visione).

Lauretta: forse con allusione alla donna amata da Petrarca, Laura.

Neifile: ossia "la nuova innamorata".

Elissa: forse è un'allusione alla regina fenicia di cui parla Virgilio nell'Eneide, simbolo di amore totale.

My translation:

Pampinea: that is, "the luxuriant", which it also appears in the Comedìa delle ninfe fiorentine and in the Buccolicum carmen.

Fiammetta: character present in various works, from The Filocolo to The Elegy of Lady Fiammetta, of which she is the protagonist. Probably she was a woman really loved by Boccaccio.

Filomena: that is, "the beloved or the lover of singing", dedicatee of The Filocolo.

Emilia: "the flattering" (a character with this name appears in various works by Boccaccio, from The Theseid to Amorosa visione.)

Lauretta: perhaps with allusion to the woman loved by Petrarca, Laura.

Neifile: that is, "the new lover".

Elissa: perhaps it is an allusion to the Phoenician queen mentioned by Virgil in the Aeneid, a symbol of total love.

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