Calabrese or Calabrian Woman

Calabres, Calabrese, Calabresi??


When people ask me what my book’s about and I start talking about Calabria, the word calabrese often comes up. “So does it have something to do with calabres?” At first I was surprised that many people seemed to have more of a familiarity with an Italian form of a word than its English translation. I then came to realize that, whether heard spoken by a friend or co-worker or seen written on a restaurant menu, the original Italian term may actually be used more frequently than its English counterpart. 

To clear up the terminology, Calabria is the name of the region in the toe of the Italian boot in both English and Italian. Calabrese is its adjectival form in Italian. So, for example, if you were talking about cooking from that area, it would be called cucina calabrese. The English adjectival form is Calabrian, thus Calabrian cuisine.

The nationality is also taken from the adjective, so a person from Calabria (male or female) would be a Calabrese (Italian) or Calabrian (English). In its plural form, the e changes to an i, thus, the Calabrian people would be Calabresi and Calabrian wines, vini calabresi.


As for the use of capitalization, Italian is a little different from English. When calabrese is used as an adjective or to modify another word, the first letter isn’t capitalized in Italian, thus, cultura calabrese as compared with Calabrian culture. When used as a noun, it’s generally capitalized. I hesitate to write any hard and fast rules with regard to Italian grammar, as I often find Italians themselves a bit ambiguous due to the complications of their language. For example,, a comprehensive grammar website, gives an example with the word italiano (Italian), explaining that when used as an adjective, it’s fitting to use the lower case and when used as a noun, it’s advisable but not obligatory to capitalize. Rules and theories with regard to the positioning of an adjective in relation to a noun are even more involved.


Calabres is simply a shortened form of calabrese, an Anglicization of the Italian word. Although it’s common in Italian-American communities, it wouldn’t be abbreviated in Italy. Most Italian words end in a vowel, and that’s the way they like it.


Calabrian-Americans tend to use the word Calabrese over Calabrian, understandably so, as the term has been passed down through generations. Likewise with Calabrian-American authors, and as a matter of fact, many computer spellchecks accept the word Calabrese but not Calabrian. The older British accounts of Calabria, however, all use the traditional English word.

As I see it, the fact that the British have had an English form of the word for a very long time is a good sign, indicating that Calabrians have been talked about for at least as long. Personally, in writing, I find it easier to stick with the English as I then don’t have to struggle with whether or not to then combine it with an Italian article or plural. But language is always changing—look at how fast everyone switched from Turin to Torino in order to appear in-the-know during the 2006 Winter Olympics!

Calabrese Woman or Calabrian Woman

“Donna di Calabria” by Rachele Bianchi

Calabrian Woman or Calabrese Woman?

Calabria bookRead about Calabria and its people, Calabrians and Calabresi, their rich history, traditions, arts, food, society, daily life, tourist sites and other information regarding this fascinating region in my award-winning, nonfiction book Calabria: The Other Italy, widely available in paperback and e-book versions.

Calabria: The Other Italy makes a great gift!

Are you ready to meet the Calabresi? Come on an in-depth tour with Karen’s Travel LLC. Check out the itineraries on my Calabria Tour page.Calabria book

Comments 17

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  1. Want to be MY teacher? (only kidding). Mine was from MILANO, and she thought that there was nothing worthwhile to even talk about from Roma or anything south of it!
    Like the statue. Very impressive!

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      That’s really a shame! I’m glad you know better.
      I also really like this statue that was, incidentally, sculpted by an artist from Milan, who clearly thought there was something worthwhile in Calabria! It graces Piazza Parrasio in the old town of Cosenza.

  2. Your comment re: “the fact that the British have had an English form of the word for a very long time is a good sign, indicating that Calabrians have been talked about for at least as long.” Certainly Calabrians have been talked about for a long time but not necessarily in accurate and informed terms. I am certain you have read Eighteenth and Nineteeenth centuries travelogues written by English-speaking and other Northern Europeans? With all due respect, from the contents of your Website I sense that your representations of Calabria and the Calabresi are as if you were travelling by on a train and missed the station where you should have left the train and learned to see and smell and feel as the locals would. How about reading Giovanni Verga as a starting point?

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      You are absolutely right, the use of the word does not mean the descriptions were necessarily informed or accurate. I briefly address the three most read historical travelogues in Three Classic Books on Calabria. Much of what these writers say is very positive, and Lear’s images are proudly displayed all over Calabria, but there’s also a healthy dose of superiority.
      Interesting you bring up trains as I’ve spent untold hours on them in Calabria talking to Calabresi during my 4 years living there and on many visits thereafter, and I can assure you they wouldn’t have let me miss my station. The one time I did miss the station, I was led astray by a northern conductor who didn’t know the stops.
      What I write is clearly from my point of view, and I can only say that my book has been appreciated in Calabria by Calabresi to the point of being given an award by the Society of Culture and International Relations in Villa San Giovanni. The Premio Internazionale Calabria highlights literature that promotes the culture and raises awareness of Calabria and Southern Italy.
      Verga is always a good recommendation. I would also like to suggest the work of Corrado Alvaro and Saverio Strati for a 20th-century perspective of the region written by native Calabrians.

  3. I found out that my family’s ancestry is Calabrese. I am still vacationing in Italy and just left San Basile, Calabria and I want to explore more of the region. I loved it every minute of my time there.

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      I’m sure you did. The Pollino Mountains are so beautiful and the Arbëreshë history and culture in San Basile is so interesting. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

  4. Ciao Karen. I somehow missed this post! The same can be said about Pugliese/ Pugliese/Pugliese. Fortunately you don’t see Puglian too often, as it is not a word that flows. I also dislike ‘Apulia’ which is the Latin name for Puglia, but often gets used in English. You do also hear ‘Puglies’ by italo americani and italocanadesi as this is dialetto where the vowel at the end sort of gets chopped off. Personally, I try to always use the Italian form for all names. I will have to read some of those books you mentioned in your reply above. A Calabrese friend of mine has a novel coming out next year about briganti in Calabria called ‘ La Brigantessa’. So many books and blogs to read…so little time..Mannaggia! Ciao, Cristina

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      Since writing this post, I brought the question up to a group of Calabrians/Calabresi who all spoke English in a meeting of the Anglo-Italian Club in Reggio. They all said that in English they preferred “Calabrian,” which I thought was interesting. I think in classic English writing on Apulia/Puglia, the people are referred to as Apulians. For me, the difficulty comes with what to do with the ending in singular/plural when writing in English. Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. Thank you for this article. There is not much on the web like this. I am confused for one thing please. Could it not be Cucina Calabresi? As in the cooking from the Calabrese people? Many thanks

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      Good question, Mel. Adjectives conform grammatically to the nouns they modify. Cucina (cooking or cuisine) is singular, so its modifier would be singular, too: cucina calabrese, cucina francese, cucina giapponese, etc. These phrases refer to the cooking of groups of people, but because the word cucina is singular, so are the nationalities that follow. The word cucina, however, could be used in the plural form if the cooking of more than one nationality was involved, such as cucine internazionali (international cuisines). In another use of the word, cucina also means kitchen, kitchen cabinets or stove, so cucine calabresi could mean, for example, kitchen cabinets in a Calabrian style or made by a Calabrian or Calabrians. I hope that helps.

  6. Karen, this is a great article!!! I discovered yesterday out of all days, my family great Grandparents are from this region of Italy. I shared your article on my Facebook page. I also liked your Facebook page and followed you. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge, much appreciated!!!

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