Origin of "don" in Italian/Spanish


Senior Member
"Don" (From dom(i)nus) in both Italian and Spanish can be used as an honorific before someone's name.In which language/when did this practice originate?
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  • Cossue

    Senior Member
    Galician & Spanish
    I would say that in Latin itself; at least in Galician Medieval Latin "domnus" was used as a honorific title (cf. GMH):
    "fundavit eclesiam sancte Marie pater noster domnus Senior Abbas" 842
    "donaverat ipsam villam domnus Adefonsus rex" 871
    "Ego Flarencus et uxor mea Liuvilo vobis domnus Rudesindus episcopus" 934
    "ipse comes genitor mei domnus Arias" 962
    Going back in time I find that during the 6th century the Visigothic King Reccared was referred as "Gloriosissimus Dominus Reccaredus Rex" and also as "Dominus noster Reccaredus Rex".


    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    I was told by an Italian friend that this practice of putting Don before someone's first name is only frequent in Sicily. Elsewhere it's only for the clergy.

    In French I've only seen it in the cases of Dom Juan and Dom Pérignon.


    Senior Member
    Romanian - Romania
    I noticed in the TV series Gomorra (spoken in Neapolitan) that mob bosses are referred with Don (Savastano) or Donna (Patrizia) appellatives
    in a context where the appellant has an inferior social status.

    On another topic, note that modern Romanian uses domn as honorific title before someone's surname, in situations of status equality or inequality.
    This is a recent development, probably adapted from French in the 19th century when the form 'domnul meu' (ad litteram translation of Monsieur) was also used.


    Senior Member
    Sardu / Italianu
    In medieval Sardinian until about XVIth century is documented the use of "Donnu" as honorific title for men, and "Donna" for females.

    The nobles had the honorific title of Donnu, while their sons had the diminutive Donnikellu or Donnikella if female. (Latin "dominicellus -> domnicellus -> donnicellu; with classical pronunciation C = K).

    Now the title Donnu has disappeared, replaced by the shortened form "Don", mostly used for Priests, but until the half of XXth century, when there were still nobles around the title Don was also used for nobles. While the use of "Donna" still remains only as honorific title, The only situation where the masculine Donnu it's still used is when speaking about God in idiomatic phrases. (Donnu Deus | S'arcu de Donnu Deus = the rainbow | Fora de sa grascia de Donnu Deus = out of God's grace)

    While in Italian "Donna" simply means "woman", in Sardinian means "milady", and the word for woman instead is "Femina" (Latin "femina")


    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    I concur with Latin itself.

    In Catalan, don and dona, from domnu/domna, were used in Llull and the first Chronicles (13th c). Variant dom was used among friars. They haven't survived --besides, nowadays dona means woman.

    But there was another variant, a very worn-out one coming from the vocative dom(i)ne, dom(i)na, which is still in use today, en and na, though more informally.


    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    I had never made that connection before. So En Pere is the exact equivalent of Don Pablo...

    Is Na in still in use? I don't think I have ever come across Na Maria, Na Julia... but perhaps it has escaped me.


    Senior Member
    Romanian - Romania
    The only situation where the masculine Donnu it's still used is when speaking about God in idiomatic phrases. (Donnu Deus | S'arcu de Donnu Deus = the rainbow | Fora de sa grascia de Donnu Deus = out of God's grace)
    Same construct for the name of God is used in Romanian Dumnezeu (< lat. Domine Deus, with Domine in vocative case).
    Anyway, the real meaning of Domine Deus ("Almighty God") was lost in Romanian for the common people, because there is in use the expression:
    Doamne Dumnezeule! (vocative) which contains 2 Domine(s).

    Medieval Romanian had the appellative Doamne! (vocative) as a way to address the ruler of the country (voivode - a Slavic word for king).

    As a digression I comment here that Romanian medieval history was harsher than in other Western countries because this territory was a gateway for the migratory peoples that invaded (Eastern) Europe during the Dark Ages (in their way to Byzantium - Constantinople).
    The entire Romanian nobility was replaced by the noblemen of these peoples (Cumans, Patzinakis, Slavs etc.), the nobiliary and honorific titles (that Latin might have had) vanished from Romanian and were replaced by Slavic words.
    But the biggest tragedy was that written documents have disappeared, too.
    Romanian has a gap of 1000 years of written sources and this makes very difficult the job of linguists to reconstruct its evolution.
    Aromanian is in a more difficult position - its oldest written sources are from 18th century - so this language could be used only for reconstructing (hypothetical) Old Romanian words.

    In conclusion it is well possible that Late Latin had the honorific title dom(i)nus in Balkan Peninsula, but it was lost in Romanian.
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