“Fra la pasta c’è: paternostri, avemarie e semesanto; sono tre tipi di pasta…l’avemarie són piccoline, ’ paternostri sono un po’ più grande e il semesanto sono que’ chicchini” (In Tuscan dialect, “Among the pasta shapes we have: paternostri, avemarie and semesanto; three types of pasta… avemarie are small, paternostri are a little bigger and semesanto are those tiny ones”): T. Poggi Salani, N. Binazzi et al., Vocabolario del Fiorentino Contemporaneo, Accademia della Crusca (Contemporary Florentine Dictionary: Crusca Academy): http://www.accademiadellacrusca.it/it/scaffali-digitali/vocabolario-fiorentino).
The name of this pasta for soups comes directly from Roman Catholic tradition, referring to the famous Hail Mary prayer (Ave Maria). This appellation is mainly used in Tuscany, while in other areas of Italy people are more likely to call them ditalini.
It was common practice in Italian families to recite prayers to estimate cooking times. Some even argue that the difference in size between Ave Marie and Pater Noster pasta can be attributed to the Rosary. The Rosary is a set of beads on a string, each of which corresponds to a prayer: the larger beads invite the faithful to pronounce the “Our Father” (Pater Noster) prayer, while the smaller beads correspond to the invocation of the “Hail Mary” (Ave Maria).
Ave Marie are excellent especially in the preparation of soups with pulses, especially beans, or a nice creamy vegetable soup.