Italian Language Blog

L’alfabeto telefonico Posted by on Nov 15, 2008 in Grammar

It’s always tricky trying to spell a word over the telephone because several letters are difficult to distinguish from each other, e.g. p and b, m and n, etc. Of course you can use the international alphabet system: alpha, bravo, charlie … but I personally can never remember it. In Italy we use a system that is based on the names of Italian towns. Here it goes:


A = Ancona         

B = Bologna

C = Como

D = Domodossola

E = Empoli

F = Firenze

G = Genova

H = hotel

I = Imola

L = Livorno

M= Milano

N = Napoli

O = Orvieto

P = Pisa

Q = quadro

R = Roma

S = Siena

T = Torino

U = Udine

V = Venezia

Z = zeta (or Zara)


As you can see there are no Italian towns starting with “h” (this letter is called “acca”), or “q” (“quadro” isn’t the name of a town, it means “picture”). Another peculiarity of the Italian alphabet is that officially we don’t use the letters j, k, w, x, y, but we have a name for each of them:

J = i lunga; k = kappa; w = v doppio; x = ics; y = ipsilon.


So, if I’m booking a hotel over the telephone and they ask me “come si scrive il suo nome?” (Lit. how do you write your name?), I would say: S come (= as in) Siena, E come Empoli, R come Roma, E come Empoli, N come Napoli, A come Ancona.


N.B. This list of towns is not totally strict and there are some variations such as S = Savona or Salerno, and O = Otranto, but they are all fairly famous Italian towns with the exception of Domodossola. All Italians know this name because of the telephone alphabet, but very few of us know where it is! It’s a small town in the North of Italy on the border with Switzerland.


Buona fortuna!


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  1. Beth Melican:

    Hi! Happy New Year. I just wanted to say how much i enjoy your blog. I only found it about four weeks ago and it has been a great addition to my Italian studies. I started about 15 months ago and am making slow but steady progress. I find your grammar pieces especially helpful as they are succinct and entertaining. The cultural and lifestyle pieces are encouraging me to get to Italy this year (I hope) and jump in with both feet.
    Just wanted to let you know your efforts and humour are greatly appreciated down here in Melbourne Australia.

    Best wishe, Beth Melican

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