1. Introduction
  2. Some rambling thoughts
  3. A stratigraphy of Maltese surnames
  4. Hull’s theory of a Girgenti colony
  5. Early census taking and surname rankings
  6. Census 2005 and the commonest surnames in Malta
  7. The pantheon of Maltese surnames
  8. Surname frequencies by location
  9. A snapshot of Gozo
  10. The ‘Australian’ parallel sample
  11. Cognates and doublets
  12. Multiple surnames
  13. Extinct surnames

Census 2005 and the commonest surnames in Malta

After a Census Order was issued in 2005, a Census of Population and Housing was undertaken between 21 November and 11 December 2005, with 27 November 2005 being established as Census Day. This was the 16th census to be carried out since the first modern one was undertaken in 1842. It presents a snapshot of the socio-demographic profile of our population in the early years of the 21st century. Apart from furnishing the usual data on population figures and a wide array of statistical reports concerning housing, migration, economic activity, and health, the Census provides valuable facts on the frequency and distribution of Maltese surnames.

Between 1842 and the last 2005 census, the population of Malta has grown 3.5 times, from 114,499 persons to 404,962 (200,819 males or 49.6% and 204,143 or 50.4%) Furthermore, while the population increased by over 60% between 1842 and 1901, it has more than doubled since the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, since the 1901 census the population grew by 2.2 times. In 1995, the population stood at 378,132. It has since increased by 26,830 persons, 13,983 males and 12,847 females. 139,583 private households were recorded.

As expected, not all persons enumerated in Census 2005 are Maltese citizens. But even the concept of citizenship itself has to be qualified vis-a-vis the notion of nationality. The European Convention on Nationality of 1997 – nationality (as synonymous to citizenship) is defined as “the legal bond between a person and a State and does not indicate the person’s ethnic origin”. The Maltese Constitution then states that someone becomes a citizen of Malta either because he/she is or was born in Malta or because he/she is born to a Maltese migrant abroad (43). The Constitution also provides for the acquisition of citizenship through neutralization or assimilation.

On a district basis, the Northern Harbour District (which comprises Birkirkara, St Venera, Qormi, Pietà, Ħamrun, Ta’ Xbiex, Sliema, Msida, San Ġwann, Gżira, St Julian’s, Swieqi, Pembroke) is the most thickly inhabited. In fact, 119,332 persons, or 29.5% of the population, live in this district. In terms of population size, the lowest number of people lives in Gozo and Comino with 31,007 inhabitants, or 7.7% of the population. The largest increase in the population, both in terms of number and proportion, occurred in the Northern District (which comprises Mellieha, Mosta, Naxxar, St Paul’s Bay, Għargħur, and Mġarr). Whereas the population measured 44,852 in 1995, it reached 57,167 in 2005, an increase of 27.5 %. In 2005, residents living in this district accounted for 14.1% of the population. The number of persons in the Southern Harbour Distract (which comprises Vittoriosa, Cospicua, Senglea, Fgura, Kalkara, Floriana, Luqa, Marsa, Paola, Santa Lucia, Tarxien, Valletta, Xgħajra, and Żabbar), on the other hand, continued to decline. Whereas the population was 83,234 in 1995, this went down to 81,107 in 2005, a decrease of 2.6%.

There has been a slowdown in population growth. In the period 1995–2005 the population grew by 6.9%, compared to 9.5% in the period 1985–1995. The average age of the Maltese population was 39 years in November 2005, up from 36 years in 1985 and 34 years in 1985. The Census also indicated a steady decline in the number of children and a marked increase in the number of older persons, evidencing an ageing population.

Birkirkara, with a population of 21,858 remained the largest locality in Malta. It was followed by Mosta with a population of 18,735 and Qormi with a population of 16,559. The smallest locality was Mdina with 278 residents, followed by Għasri (418 residents) and San Lawrenz (598 residents). Valletta lost 947 residents since 1995, or a decrease of 13% of its population. With a count of 3,083 the population density in Senglea measured 19,293 per km2. On a national level there was an average of 1,281 persons per km2 (1,517 persons per km2 for Malta and 452 per km2 for Gozo). This means that Malta remains the most densely populated country in the European Union (44).

The Census of 2005 records 12,310 different surnames, representing an average of 33 persons for every surname (45). This is obviously just a curiosity as the frequency of the higher-ranking surnames runs into thousands, while some family names in Malta are restricted to just three, two, and even one person. Double-barrelled surnames and cognate forms with orthographic differences (such as Sciriha/Xriha, Sciberras/Sceberras, Mugliette/Muliett, etc.) were treated as separate surnames. The 20 commonest surnames in Malta are:

Surname

Frequency

(raw number) (46)

% of total population

Relative value

Borg

13,456

3.3

100

Camilleri

12,864

3.2

95.6

Vella

11,998

3.0

89.2

Farrugia

11,725

2.9

87.1

Zammit

9,554

2.4

71.0

Galea

8,666

2.1

64.1

Micallef

8,494

2.1

63.1

Grech

7,958

2.0

59.1

Attard

7,466

1.8

55.5

Spiteri

7,335

1.8

54.5

Azzopardi

7,049

1.7

52.4

Cassar

7,044

1.7

52.3

Mifsud

6,674

1.6

49.6

Caruana

6,562

1.6

48.8

Muscat

6,187

1.5

46.0

Agius

5,911

1.5

44.0

Schembri

4,955

1.2

36.8

Abela

4,948

1.2

36.8

Fenech

4,758

1.2

35.4

Pace

4,502

1.1

33.5

Those bearing the commonest surnames in Malta, when grouped together, made up a staggering proportion of the whole population. Borg, which was the highest ranking family name, already made 3.3% (47). The top five surnames (Borg, Camilleri, Vella, Farrugia, and Zammit), with an aggregate of 59,597 made up 14.72% (48). The top ten (adding Galea, Micallef, Grech, Attrad, and Spiteri), with an aggregate of 99,516 made up 24.57%. The top 20 (adding Cassar, Azzopardi, Mifsud, Caruana, Muscat, Agius, Schembri, Abela, Fenech, and Pace) made up 39.04% (158,106 people); the top 25 make up 43.96% (178,018 people); the top 50 made up 61.46% (248,913 people); and finally the top 100 made up 76.02% (307,886 people). This means that almost a quarter of Malta’s entire population incredibly shared just ten family names, and that the top 100 surnames comprised more than three quarters of the whole population. The other 23.98% (97,076 people) shared the remaining 12,210 surnames.

In Census 2005, only the first four surnames exceeded the 10,000 mark, although the fifth (Zammit) was quite close to achieving the same distinction. The surname in spot 13 (Mifsud) is already half as common as the top one. Hundreds of surnames are only borne by a handful, sometimes by a couple or even by a single person. The Census showed 6,233 surnames with a frequency of 1; 1,947 with a frequency of 2; 984 with a frequency of 3; and 702 with a frequency of 4. These are ephemeral surnames and come next census (2015) some of them will definitely not figure in the local surnominal pool. Put together, they constituted 9,866 surnames, meaning that only 2,444 surnames (from a total of 12,310) have a frequency of five or more.

Other frequency statistics emerging from the 2005 roll:

Number of surnames

Frequency

1,390

10 or more

834

20 or more

404

50 or more

226

100 or more

167

200 or more

113

500 or more

80

1,000 or more

53

2,000 or more

16

5,000 or more

Notes:
  1. J. Treeby Ward, ‘Citizenship’, in G.N. Busuttil and V. Pace (eds), Proceedings and Report: Convention of Leaders of Associations of Maltese Abroad and of Maltese Origin, Malta: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2000, p. 353.
  2. National Statistics Office, Census of Population and Housing 2005, vol. 1 – Population, Malta, 2007, p. xxiv.
  3. A news release by the National Statistics Office (‘A Focus on Surnames’, No. 122/2006, 5/6/06) had provisionally put the number at 11,400; the final and definite number was communicated to me by the NSO in 2008.
  4. Figures do not include double-barrelled surnames.
  5. In Italy, the top-ranking surname, Rossi, comprises just 0.34% of the whole population; in Sicily the top-ranking surname Russo comprises 0.58% of the population; while Smith, the commonest surname in England and Wales, roughly covers 1.3% of the population.
  6. The five commonest family names in Italy comprise just 1% of the whole population.

  1. Introduction
  2. Some rambling thoughts
  3. A stratigraphy of Maltese surnames
  4. Hull’s theory of a Girgenti colony
  5. Early census taking and surname rankings
  6. Census 2005 and the commonest surnames in Malta
  7. The pantheon of Maltese surnames
  8. Surname frequencies by location
  9. A snapshot of Gozo
  10. The ‘Australian’ parallel sample
  11. Cognates and doublets
  12. Multiple surnames
  13. Extinct surnames
Top