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

Hull’s theory of a Girgenti colony

Granted that the Maltese Christians in Norman and Swabian times were of predominantly Sicilian stock, at least through the male line, the question of their exact place of origin invites investigation. In the absence of a standard work on the origin and distribution of surnames in late medieval Sicily, the obvious approach is to consider modern concentrations of surnames. Geoffrey Hull conducted such research based on the Sicilian telephone directories of 1980. Collectively ‘Maltese’ surnames as a group revealed themselves to be generally rare outside the area of southern and south-eastern Sicily comprising, Noto, Ragusa, Modica, Pachino, Gela (formerly Terranova), Licata, Caltanissetta, and Agrigento (formerly Girgenti). Surprisingly the largest number of correspondences to 15th century Maltese surnames was found in the most remote locality, that is Agrigento.

The following names are commoner in Agrigento (and occasionally in nearby Favara and Aragona), than anywhere: Vella, Farruggia (cf. Farrugia), Schembri, Burgio (cf. Borg), Cassaro (cf. Cassar), Mangione (cf. Mangion), Pace, Camilleri, Falzone (cf. Falzon), Buggea (cf. Bugeja), Frenda (cf. Frendo), Gallea (cf. Galea), Zambuto (cf. Sammut), Tabone, Bono (cf. Debono), Cumbo, Moscato (cf. Muscat), Vassallo, Gutaia (cf. Cutajar), Cuschera (cf. Cuschieri), Pisano (cf. Pisani), and Caruana. Even when another centre yielded the highest count for a Maltese surname, the form in question was found to be well established in Agrigento as well. This was the case with: Zammitti (cf. Zammit), Greco (cf. Grech), Sacco, Atardo (cf. Attard), Conti, Bonanno, Brancato (cf. Brincat), Mallia, and Puglisi (possibly Pulis) in Syracuse; Zupardo (cf. Azzopardi) and Scicolone (cf. Scicluna) in Gela; Bennici (cf. Bonnici) in Licata; and Spataro (cf. Spiteri) in Pachino (30).

The only cases in which some other centre has a complete or near monopoly of Maltese surnames are the following: Formosa and Storace in Syracuse; Cilia in Ragusa; Cammisuli (cf. Camenzuli) in Pachino; De Bartolo (cf. Bartolo), Portelli, Magnuco (Mahnuc) (31), Cauchi, Scerra (cf. Scerri), Psaila, and Ascia (perhaps Asciak) in Gela; Callea (cf, Calleja) and Baldacchino in Licata; and Galia (cf. Galea), Bonanno, and Barbara in Trapani (32).

Consequently, contrary to one’s expectation of finding in the south-eastern corner of Sicily the closest onomastic agreement with Malta, the Gela-Caltanissetta-Agrigento axis appears to be the source of most of the oldest Maltese surnames, with the latter district as the obvious epicentre. One important characteristic which 12th century Girgenti had in common with Malta was that it was then (with the rest of the Val di Mazara) a bastion of Arabic speech and Islamic faith in a Sicily that was in the process of being Latinized and Christianized. A valid question now poses itself: might the Swabian authorities, in planting Christian colonists in the Maltese archipelago in the early decades of the 13th century have deliberately recruited Christian speakers of Arabic from Girgenti whose knowledge of the tongue of the infidels would have served the interests of the emperor well? Or where they a flock of exiles in consonance with Frederick II’s notorious policy of mass deportations?

As a metropolis, and the closest one to Agrigento, Palermo often yields the largest number of ‘Maltese’ surnames today. However, it must be presumed that most of the ’Maltese’ names in large concentrations evidently belong to families originally from the neighbouring province, the validity of this assertion being borne out by the fact that these names very rarely occur elsewhere in Palermo province, whereas they are well distributed in Agrigento province.

Many typically Maltese surnames are extant in modern-day Sicily, although often carrying different spellings. A brief list will suffice: Attardo, Attardi (cf. Attard); Zuppardo, Zuppardi (cf. Azzopardi); Baldacchino; Balzano, Balsano (cf. Balzan); Barbara; Bartolo (besides Di Bartolo, De Bartolo, Lo Bartolo); Bizzini, Vizzini (if inferring Bezzina); Bonanno; Bonavia; Bennici, Bennico, Bennica, Bennice, Bonica (cf. Bonnici); Burgio (cf. Borg); Brancato, Brancati (cf. Brincat); Buggea, Buggia, Bugea, Buggè, Bugè, Bugia (cf. Bugeja); Calafato; Callea, Callia, Calia (cf. Calleja); Cammisuli, Caminsuli (cf. Camenzuli); Camilleri (besides Cammilleri, Cammalleri, Camalleri, Camillieri, Cammillieri); Caruana; Cassaro (cf. Cassar); Cassia; Cauchi; Procopio (cf. Chircop); Cilia; Consiglio; Conti (and Conte); Cumbo; Cuschera, Coschiera, Cuscheri (cf. Cuschieri); Cuttaia, Cutaia (cf. Cutajar); De Bono (besides Di Bono, De Bonis, De Boni, Bono); Delia (besides D’Elia); Falzone, Falzoni, Falsone (cf. Falzon); Farruggia, Farruggio (cf. Farrugia); Formosa (besides Formoso, Formusa, Formuso); Frenda, Frenna (cf. Frendo); Galia, Gallea (cf. Galea); Gaudesi (cf. Gauci); Greco (cf. Grech); Grima; Mallia (besides Mellia); Mangione, Mangioni (cf. Mangion); Moscato, Muscato, Moscati (cf. Muscat); Pace (besides Paci); Pisani (besides Pisani, Pisana); Basile (if related to Psaila); Puglisi, Pulizzi (if related to Pulis); Sacco; Zammuto, Zambuto (cf. Sammut); Xerra, Scerra, Sciarra (cf. Scerri, Xerri); Schembri (besides Schembari, Schemmari, Schembre); Scichilone, Scicolone (cf. Scicluna); Spitaleri, Spitali, Spitale (cf. Spiteri); Tabone (besides Tabbone); Tona (if inferring Tonna); Vassallo; Vella (besides Vedda, Bella, Di Bella, La Bella); Zammito, Zambito, Sammito, Sambito, Zammitti, Zimmitti, Zammitto (cf. Zammit) (33).

Some ‘Maltese’ surnames in Sicily, strictly in their present orthographic form, might be recent imports and hence do not necessarily date back to the Middle Ages or Early Modern period. Hull supplies the following examples: Attard, Bonnici, Borg, Cassar, Chiricoppi (cf. Chircop), Falzon, Farrugia, Galea, Frendo, Grech, Fenech, Mangion, Micalef (cf. Micallef), Moscatt (cf. Muscat), Psaila, Saito (perhaps Said), Zammit, Sillato, Sciabbarrasi (cf. Sciberras), Xerri, Portelli, Missud (perhaps Mifsud), and Spiteri (34).

Asciak, Curmi, Seychell, Agius, Ellul, Busuttil, Dingli, Hili, and Xuereb are apparently unrecorded in Sicily.

Notes:
  1. Hull, p. 324.
  2. Now extinct. Cf. Chapter 4.8.
  3. Hull, pp. 324--25.
  4. All these surnames are lifted from G. Caracausi’s Dizionario onomastico della Sicilia: Repertorio storico-etimologico di nomi di famiglia e di luogo (2 volumes), Palermo: L’Epos--Centro di Studi Filologici e Linguistici Siciliani, 1993.
  5. Hull, pp. 383--86.

  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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