Bella Italia… beautiful Italy! Yes, the name of the country Italy is Italia in its native tongue, but where does the word come from?
In the past, the name didn’t even denote the whole country. One theory is that it derives from the word Italói, a term used by the Greeks for the Vituli (or Viteli), a population that lived in the extreme tip of the Italian peninsula, in the South (today this would be Catanzaro, Calabria in Southern Italy). These people worshipped an icon – a calf (vitulus in Latin). So the name means “inhabitants of the land of calves.”
So how did the name spread from Calabria right up to the Alps? In the 3rd century BC, the Romans won battles against the Samnite peoples and their King Pyrrhus and extended the name to their territories as far as the Magra and Rubicon rivers. The Magra is a river that runs through La Spezia in the Liguria Region in the North (not far from the Cinque Terre). While the Rubicon – famously crossed by Caesar – is also in the North, but on the Adriatic coast near Rimini.
In 49 B.C., Cisalpine Gaul (the part of Italy inhabited by the Celts) was also granted Roman citizenship rights, and the Northern regions of the peninsula, stretching right up to the Alps, also took the name Italia. So finally the whole of the ‘boot’ was known by that name.
Another theory about the origin of the name Italia is the legend of Italo, King of the Enotri (Oenotrians) who supposedly lived sixteen generations before the Trojan War (we’re talking around 1350 B.C.!). He converted his people from a nomadic lifestyle to settling near Catanzaro and Italia is supposedly derived from his name. Italo became a popular name for Italian boys and you’ll still meet people with that name today.
How to Say Italy in Italian
Italia is pronounced ee-TAH-lyah.
Nouns in Italian are either masculine or feminine (with no neutral nouns). Almost all the words ending in ‘a’ are feminine, so Italia follows the rule and is a ‘feminine’ country.
Here are some other feminine countries in Italian:
- La Francia – France
- La Danimarca – Denmark
- La Germania – Germany
- La Cina – China
- La Russia – Russia
While some ‘masculine’ countries ending in ‘o’ or ‘e’ are:
- Il Messico – Mexico
- Il Belgio – Belgium
- Il Brasile – Brazil
It would be great if the ‘a’ is feminine rule was true for all the countries – like l’Italia – but unfortunately, things are a bit more complicated than that. We’ve also got il Canada, il Sudafrica (South Africa), il Guatemala, il Kenia (Kenya) and il Panama – all masculine!
How Italians Use the Word ‘Italia’
Bella Italia means ‘beautiful Italy.’
Italy is known (for obvious reasons) as ‘Il Bel Paese’ (the beautiful country) so Bella Italia is ‘beautiful Italy’ and L’Italia è bella – Italy is beautiful!
Vado in Italia
This means ‘I’m going to Italy.’ In the Italian language ‘to’ is usually translated as ‘a’ but not with countries.
Vado a Milano – I’m going to Milan
Vado al cinema – I’m going to the cinema
Vado in Spagna quest’estate – I’m going to Spain this summer
For a quick Italian grammar note, the preposition ‘a’ meaning to is used with verbs that answer the questions where? or to where? and verbs of being in a place or motion followed by city names:
Sono a casa – I am at home
Vado a scuola – I go to school
Studio a Milano – I study in Milan
While the preposition ‘in’ is used in front of names of continents, countries, squares, streets,
regions and large islands:
Sono in America – I’m in the USA
Tra una settimana vado in Toscana, in Italia – I’m to Tuscany, in Italy, in a week
I miei cugini abitano in Sicilia – My cousins live in Sicily
Mi Piace l’Italia
Mi piace l’Italia means ‘I like Italy.’
Because of how the verb piacere works in Italy this sentence literally means ‘Italy pleases me’.
Amo l’Italia is ‘I love Italy!’
The verb amare (to love) works ‘normally,’ unlike the verb piacere.
‘Come on Italy!’
This is a chant often heard at Italian soccer games like the European Championships or the World Cup. It is also the name of a center-right political party founded by Silivo Berlusconi in 1994.
Forza Azzurri means ‘Come on you Blues!’
Again, this refers to the Italian soccer team, also known as the Azzuri because they wear a light-blue strip (azzurro= light blue in Italian). So it’s just like saying ‘Come on Italy.’
Fun Fact: Italy wears blue (instead of green, red or white) to honor the House of Savoy (which ruled Italy until unification in 1861).
Fratelli d’Italia translates to ‘Brothers of Italy.’
This is the unofficial name of the Italian national anthem (because it is the start of the song).
Fratelli d’Italia is also the name of a right-wing political party led by Giorgia Melloni, who is currently Italy’s Prime Minister.
Regno d’Italia means ‘the kingdom of Italy.’
Italy used to be a monarchy and the ruling family was the House of Savoy. The Kingdom of Italy existed from 1861 – 1946. It began after the Risorgimento or Italian uprising, which saw the separate states of Italy united into one country. Shortly after the war, a referendum was
held on whether to keep the monarchy and Italy voted to become the republic that we know today.
Viaggio in Italia
Viaggio in Italia, or “Italian Journey” is the title of a travel diary by the famous 19th-century German author Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.
It is also the title of a 1954 film directed by Roberto Rossellini (the English title is “Journey to Italy”) starring Ingrid Bergman.
Italy in Italian – Should You Use Italia or l’Italia?
Sometimes you will see ‘Italia’ and sometimes ‘L’Italia’. So when do you use one and not the other?
The rule is linked to what we discussed above with the preposition ‘in.’ Continents, countries, states, regions, and large islands are all preceded by an article (il or la – in this case Italia begins with a vowel, so we drop the ‘a’ of la and add an apostrophe to make pronunciation flow more easily).
However, we don’t need the article with the above if we’re using the proposition ‘in’ (or if we’re using a few other common expressions).
sono in Italia – I’m in Italy
l’ex re d’Italia – the former king of Italy
il capitale d’Italia – The capital of Italy
How to Say Italy in Other Languages
- French – L’Italie
- German – Italien
- Dutch – Italië
- Spanish – Italia
- Polish – Włochy
- Portuguese – Itália
- Russian – Италия
- Swedish – Italien
- Greek – Ιταλία
I hope this has helped clear up how we say Italy in Italian! If you want to learn some more Italian phrases, check out our Italian Language page.
Are Italy and Italia the same place?
Italy and Italia are describing the same country in Europe. ‘Italy’ is the English version of the Italian word ‘Italia.’