This famous surname is Roman (latin) origins. It derives from the word 'rous' meaning red, and describes somebody with red hair or a red complexion. As Italian people are dark haired and dark skinned, this suggests that not only was the name a nickname, it was probably ethnic as well. The Anglo-Saxons for instance, were a Germanic race of red hair, and it maybe that numbers of them found their way into Italy in the 6th century, possibly as members of the invading Gallic armies who conquered the Roman Empire in the years after 410 a.d.when the Romans withdrew from their northern European outposts. In Italy the forms of the name include Russi, Russo, Rossi and Rosso, plus a large almost uncountable range of diminutives such as Rossetti, Rossetto, Russotti, and many, many, more! To prove the ethnic origin, the name is recorded in Spain as Ros and Rojo, Spain and Portugal also being conquered by the 'red heads' in the 5th to 7th century a.d. Unusually for Italy where registers of births are generally poor or at best erratic, there are some good examples of early recordings including Faustina Russo, christened at Lipari, Messina, on October 10th 1582, and Caterina Russo, a witness at Prizzi, Palermo, on December 17th 1593. The coat of arms has the distinctive blazon of a knight in armour holding in one hand a heart and in the other a shield, suggesting that he will defend his family to the end. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Eustachio Russo, which was dated April 3rd 1548, a witness at Adelphia, Bari, Italy, during the reign of Pope Paul 111, reigned from 1534 to 1549. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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