When researching Croatian family history in Istria, one should not be surprised to find that names, both Christian names and surnames, do not appear in their expected forms. Just as in the diaspora a name may be changed to make it more pronounceable to an English speaker or to be typed on an English-language keyboard lacking the diacritical marks of Croat (so that Babić becomes Babich or Babitch, and Blažević becomes Blazhevich), so names were changed in Istria under Italian and earlier under Austro-Hungarian rule. The difference is that, under Italian rule, such changes were not always made voluntarily by the subject but imposed upon him or her by the state or the church.
The Italians occupied Istria in November 1918 and within a few years had started to suppress Croatian (and of course Slovenian) national culture. In October 1919, religious education in Croat was forbidden in schools and measures begun to encourage parish priests to use Italian rather than the local vernacular in church services. In October 1923 a diktat was issued closing all Croat-language schools; they could only re-open if education was conducted in Italian. In January 1929, Croat-language newspapers were shut down. Most pertinently for our purposes, in November 1928 parents were forbidden to baptise their children using Slavic names, so in baptism registers from that date one should expect to see only Italian equivalents of Slavic names (unless the local priest defied the ruling). From April 1927, surnames, especially those which Italians regarded as having Italian or Latin roots, or claimed to have been translated from Italian and given Slavic suffixes, were to be italianised as well, so that Babić might become Babicci, and Horvat became Crevato. In April 1936 an official publication was issued prescribing the way in which names should be changed.
These are but the legal manifestations of the pervasive creeping suppression of Croatian nationality in Istria during the inter-War period of Italian rule. Of course, some Croatians emigrated to the new Yugoslavia or to America, while a minority consciously opted for Italian culture. It can be expected that most, especially away from the larger towns, simply wanted to be able to get on with their lives and lived quietly, passively accepting the italianisation of the external forms around them and keeping their essential Croatian national identity intact. Those in positions of authority – such as teachers and priests – doubtless tried to continue using Croat where they could but switched to Italian if they had to. Roman Catholic parish registers – the baptism, marriage and burial registers – and the wonderfully informative status animarum documents, encapsulating a wealth of information about a family, usually evidence the pressure to italianise, and you should expect to see Italian spellings of names. However, this was seldom standardised, so that a single family surname can be rendered in different ways at different times. This demands constant alertness on behalf of genealogists, especially when surnames showed more significant alteration than a tinkering with the surname suffix. For example, one can expect a Croatian surname beginning with a K to be changed to a C, a name beginning with a Cu or a Ču sometimes changing to a Z depending on the spelling convention required when writing it in Italian, a name starting with Krm- or Krt- acquiring a vowel, and so on.
If you have roots in Istria and are interested in knowing more about your Croatian family history and ancestry, please contact us and we would be happy to provide you with an assessment of the research that can be done and an estimate of costs.