Italian Historical Society of America

One Z or Two

 When the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was opened on November 21, 1964, the official name was the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Verrazano being spelled with one “Z”. There were some instances in which Verrazano was spelled with two “Z’s”. For example, one of the ferry boats between lower Manhattan and Staten Island was named after Verrazano. The statue of Verrazano statue in Battery Park bears the name of Verrazano. But no one seemed to be particularly bothered by the fact that the Bridge had only one “Z” in its name.

 Around 2016 there began a groundswell of well-meaning individuals who decided, without evidence, that the one “Z” version of the name was a grievous error – an unacceptable typo made by the Triborough and Bridge authority which was in charge of the project.

 However, the truth of the matter is that the use of a single Z was not haphazard at all. In fact to use one or two Zs it had been the subject of much discussion during the planning stages for the Bridge. There was the single Z camp and the double Z camp. Each fought strenuously and sincerely to have their point of view prevail. Here are some newspaper clippings from Staten Island newspapers during that time.

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 However, there is ample evidence that spelling Verrazano with one “Z” is perfectly acceptable. In fact, the appropriateness of using one Z is confirmed in the the writing of Verrazano himself. The first image below is a page from the book Four Centuries of Italian-American History by Giovanni Schiavo. Below that is a close-up view of Verrazano’s written journal which shows his use of only a single Z in his name.

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Using one Z is not an error, but a variation.

For the record, the Italian Historical Society strongly favors the single Z version. This preference is rooted in the fact that the single Z version more closely conforms to the way Verrazano is actually pronounced. In fact, the double z version is virtually unpronounceable.

Compare it for example with another common Italian word that definitely has a double Z: Pizza.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word pizza is pronounced with two Z syllables: piz-za. Each of the two syllables has a Z and therefore the word is spelled with two Zs. This reflects how we actually pronounce “pizza”, i.e., piz za.

However, when you look at the Merriam-Webster rendering of Verrazano (significantly Verrazzano is listed as a Variant of Verrazano) the pronunciation is: Ver-ra-za-no. There is a single syllable that contains a Z.
It is true that the accent (emphasis) falls on the third syllable, za. However, this cannot be a foundation for the use of a double Z. This is apparently why people believe the one Z version is a mistake, that is, that there is an emphasis on the “za”.

You can prove that the one Z version is actually the preferable one by trying to modify pronunciation to actually include two Z’s. It would be like this: Ver-raz-za-no. Try to pronounce it this way – you will immediately see that it is awkward, and not consistent with the words normal pronunciation. You essentially have to stop in the middle of the pronunciation of the word in order to accurately incorporate the syllable za.

So decide for yourself which is correct.