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

Extinct surnames

Extinct surnames also bear witness to Malta’s past network of intricate political and socio-cultural connections. There are several reasons which can explain why such family names have died out. Some last names were simply ephemeral and transitory – a foreigner would spend a few years working on the island and then decide to return to his native country, carrying off his surname with him. Some others were borne by families who simply failed to produce male descendants. Famine, plague, and war can wipe out whole families, especially if they are small in number. Other families may have emigrated to seek their fortune elsewhere in times of hardship or to flee the threat of invasion. This was the order of the day in medieval and early modern times. In our own epoch, it is estimated during 1946–1974 more than 137,000 Maltese left the country (90). Many Jewish names, like Levi and the derivatives of Abraham (Abramo), must have gone astray after their expulsion in 1492. Surnames may have mutated into different forms on homophonic grounds. Parish priests, notaries, and scribes surely had their fair share of meddling in this matter.

Present-day Delezio is probably a cryptic form of D’Alessio. Some changed their surnames for religious purposes.

Amato can sometimes be a disguised name for Hamed (m-t < m-d). Others have had their surname changed from a specific term to a more generic one.

A De Candia might have simply become a Grech.

Finally some surnames were victims of literal translation :

  • Pullicino may be a calque of Fellus,
  • D’Amico of Habib,
  • Pellegrini of Cagege,
  • Leone of Dorbies.

Many modern Maltese families trace their origins to various parts of Sicily and southern Italy. The geographic proximity has facilitated a considerable amount of intermarriage, cross-migration, and trade between the two countries.

Sicilian and Italian influence is exemplified in this sample of surnames which have now vanished from local nomenclature: Leopardi, Trovato, Galante, Volpi, Villa, Vallone, Tartaglia, Spada, Nava, Rispoli, Casanova, Ottomano, Cipolla, Parodi, Bordino, Bellucci, Aprile, Alaimo, Abbate, Fontana, Candela, Colonna, Falca, Fabbreschi, Solimena, Farina, Verdi, Croce, Cataldo, Nuzzo, Crispo, Mannarino, Saura, Spinola, Bonamico, Bosio, Pontremoli, Murina, Platamone, Moreo, Cannolo, Crescimanno/i, Melani, San Filippo, Santa Maura, Santa Sofia, Virtù, Montano, and Caxaro (= Casciaro). The list can never be exhaustive. It can be immediately observed that some of these surnames were borne by some illustrious Maltese families who have since died out, or else by prominent inividuals who distinguished themselsves in some sphere, being it literary, artistic, political, or otherwise.

Many extinct surnames have an obvious patronymic and toponymic import. Patronymic surnames include: De Benedetto, De Biasi, De Federico, De Filippo, De Fiore, De Francesco, De Giuseppe, De Gregorio, De Lazzaro, De Salvo, De Vico, Depetri, and De Petruzzo. These are augmented by Gori, Lorenzi, Natale/i, Nicolai, Pasquale/i, Salvatore, and several others.

Foreign countries, regions, and towns are represented by Francia (and Francese), Inglese, Fiam(m)ingo (and Flamingo), Spagna, Vasco, Toledano, Valenziano, Locarno. Italian place-names are represented by Bresciani, Capuana, Piacentini, Toscano, Ferrara, Sardo; while Sicily is represented by Trapanese, De Modica, and Ragusa.

The most interesting toponymic surname is however Maltese, which obviously relates to someone of Maltese origin who for some reason returned to the land of his ancestors.

The names of Lucia de Corfù (1581), Emmanuele de Rodi (1584), Francesco de Milo (1585), Valerio de Cefalonia (1590), Giovanni de Candia (1595), Antonio di Santorino (1597), Nicola de Patmos (1604), Giovanna del Zante (1604), Simone Di Paros (1631), and Giovanni de Thebe (1668) in the Status Liber confirm the significant presence of Greeks in Malta. Other surnames of this kind include De Corinto and De Macedonia.

Some French surnames include: Reynaud, Audibert, Vignon, Grognet, Barth, Chevalier, Glivau, Grillet, Isouard, and Letard.

Spanish examples also abound: Ximenes, Rodriguez, Alvarez, Ruiz, Carmona, Gallego, Vargas, Ribera, Torres, and Calderon.

Slavonic nomenclature brings in Mitrovich, Perovich, Mircovich, Evanovich, and Covich.

Semitic, predominantly Arab, surnames that have been wiped out are also copious: Hakim, Habib, Xara, Zabbara, Cagege, Fartas, Far, Fellus, Felu, Mahnuq, Buras, Dorbies (= Dorbes français), Debbus, Sitajjeb, and Nigret.

Then there is a fascinating list of strange defunct surnames like Abeasis (found a lot in Tunisia jewish name), Acceragg, Besseling, Calapaj, Dasos, Fucar, Levanzin = Lavanzin/ Navanzin , Meysionet (Français), Misajel, Nais/z, Navanzin = Lavanzin, Pajas, Psinga, Sisner, Sitges, Visingh, Skilaar, Benjacar, Decoss (Français), and Poussieghes (Français) which await further scrutiny.

Obviously, this modest roll of names does not do justice to the hundreds, if not thousands, of surnames which at one time were extant in Malta. Dead surnames are still part of the national heritage; they still bear witness to our colourful history and ethnic melting point.

Notes :
  1. Attard, p. 7.

  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
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