When I first moved to Milan, there was a lot of confusion over J.J., the name that I have been called since kindergarten and that I even use professionally. “But what’s your real name?” everyone wanted to know. Italians are not accustomed to using nicknames unless it’s for a very close friend. On top of that, initials are rarely, if ever, used in Italy. Complicating things even more, the letter J doesn’t exist in the Italian alphabet. After getting over the pronunciation hurdle (it’s “Jay-Jay”, ragazzi, not “Gee-Jay!”), I started noticing another peculiarity: The Italians were all referring to me as “La J.J.”
With more time (and better Italian skills), I realized that every woman in town is referred to in the third person with a lovely La before their name. “It’s part of the traditional Milanese dialect,” explains Milan native (and vintage lover) Paola Bay, whose aristocratic forbearers commissioned several distinctive buildings in the city, including Casa Bagatti Valsecchi. “The high society in Milan never used it,” Bay Continues, “in fact, my mother made sure I never said it as a child because it was slang. But now, everyone does.”
High brow or low brow, the La is here to stay. For close friends, the Milanese use La with a woman’s first name or her nickname: Marina Piano becomes La Marina. Cristina Cavatore becomes La Cri. In a professional context, high-powered women are referred to with their last name. Vogue Italia’s editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani becomes La Sozzani. Designer Alberta Ferretti is La Ferretti. There’s only one woman in town who is never, ever referred to by either her first or her last name. And that is Miuccia Prada. The divine designer is known, revered and resolutely referred to by everyone as the town’s only La Signora.
In tribute to this city’s charming tradition, we decided we just had to call ourselves La DoubleJ. We hope you’ll be equally charmed, BABE!
– J.J. Martin