This Italian surname of BELOW was a nickname for a handsome man, originally derived from the Old French BEU (fair, lovely). The name was originally rendered in Latin documents in the form BELLUS. The name was in common use as a medieval female given name. Surnames having a derivation from nicknames form the broadest and most miscellaneous class of surnames, encompassing many different types of origin. The most typical classes refer adjectivally to the general physical aspect of the person concerned, or to his character. Many nicknames refer to a man's size or height, while others make reference to a favoured article of clothing or style of dress. Many surnames derived from the names of animals and birds. In the Middle Ages ideas were held about the characters of other living creatures, based on observation, and these associations were reflected and reinforced by large bodies of folk tales featuring animals behaving as humans. The origins of Italian surnames are not clear, and much work remains to be done on medieval Italian records. It seems that fixed bynames, in some cases hereditary, were in use in the Venetian Republic by the end of the 10th century. The typical Italian surname endings are 'i' and 'o', the former being characteristic of northern Italy. The singular form 'o' is more typical of southern Italy. The name is also spelt Belli, Bellott, and Belloli. Notable members of the name include Gentile Bellini (1429-1507) the Venetian painter. He was chosen to paint the portrait of Sultan Muhammad II in Constantinople, and this portrait, together with his 'Adoration of the Kings' is in the National Gallery, London. Vincenzo Bellini (1801-35) was the Italian operatic composer, born in Catania in Sicily. An organist's son, he was sent by a Sicilian nobleman to the Conservatorio of Naples. His two earliest operas were 'Adelson e Salvina' (1824) and 'Bianca e Fernando' (1826). Most of the European surnames were formed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The process had started somewhat earlier and had continued in some places into the 19th century, but the norm is that in the tenth and eleventh centuries people did not have surnames, whereas by the fifteenth century most of the population had acquired a second name.
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