Italian Phrase of the Week: Come ti chiami? (What is your name?)

If you’ve just met someone new in Italy, one of the first things you’ll want to find out in order to avoid an embarrassing situation in the future is their name! (That is, if you manage to remember it, of course!)

The most common way to ask What is your name? in Italian is Come ti chiami? which literally translates as What do you call yourself?

The most natural responses to this question is Mi chiamo ____ (I call myself ___) or Io sono ____ (I am ___).

E tu, come ti chiami? – Mi chiamo Giulio…te l’ho già detto mille volte!

And you, what’s your name? – My name is Giulio…I’ve already told you a thousand times!

If you are talking to someone who is a) much older than you, b) of a higher status, or c) a stranger, the polite form Come si chiama? is preferred.

Lei come si chiama? – Mi chiamo Giovanni Agnelli ma i miei amici mi chiamano Gianni.

What is your name? – My name is Giovanni Agnelli, but my friends call me Gianni.

When talking to a group of people, you would use the plural Come vi chiamate? (What do you call yourselves?) instead.

An alternative form in spoken Italian involves asking the name of the person using the affirmative structure with a raised intonation at the end, in the hope that the person will do you the favour of completing the sentence.

E tu ti chiami…? – Paolo, piacere di conoscerti! – Ciao Paolo!

And your name is…? – Paolo, pleasure to meet you! – Hi Paolo!

You can use this form when the person told you their name 10 minutes ago but you’ve forgotten it. You can use the verb chiamare (ti chiami…), essere (tu sei…) or even ask them to repeat their name.

Scusa, mi ricordi il tuo nome per favore? – Paolo! – Paolo, giusto!

Sorry, can you remind me what your name is again, please? – Paolo! – Paolo, right!

An abrupt and rather rude way of inquiring about someone’s identity is to use the expression Chi sei? which literally means Who are you? It is usually reserved for situations in which the person is deserving of a good telling off because he or she is acting suspiciously or improperly. For example, you might use it toward a shady individual snooping around your property.

Ehi tu, chi sei?! Non toccare la mia macchina!

Hey you, who are you?! Don’t touch my car!

Likewise someone might use it towards you if you happen to catch them on a bad day.

E tu chi diavolo sei? E cosa vuoi? – Scusi, sono qui per consegnare un pacco…

And who the hell are you? And what do you want? – Sorry, I’m here to deliver a parcel…

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