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

The ‘Australian’ parallel sample

In the middle and later decades of the 20th century Malta faced the opportunities and challenges of migration when thousands of Maltese left the county to seek a better life abroad. The Maltese diaspora is now to be found in countries as far afield as Australia, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere (68). This has led to the creation of the concept known as ‘Greater Malta’, rooted in the sense of belonging and inclusiveness within national consciousness.

By various estimates there are between 150,000 and 300,000 Australians of Maltese descent living in Australia today (69) of whom, according to a recent estimate, some 43,000 were born in Malta (70). That migrant community represents by far the largest community of Maltese descent outside Malta anywhere in the world. Since the peak period from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s, the Malta-born population has been declining as well as aging. Most of these have lived in Australia for more than 15 years and over 70% have taken up Australian citizenship, Victoria and New South Wales attracting by far the largest number of Malta-born persons (71). Since the early 1990s, however, migration has dwindled to a trickle; the annual migration intake from the Maltese islands is now in two digit figures, and there seems little prospect of an immediate increase in the foreseeable future (72).

Mark Caruana, a Maltese emigrant in Australia, conducted statistical research on the frequency of Maltese surnames specifically in that country which is often cited as the second home of the Maltese. He based his list on the entries occurring in the 1998 national telephone directory. The results read as follows:

  1. Vella – 1,850
  2. Borg – 1,810
  3. Camilleri – 1,339
  4. Galea – 1,106
  5. Farrugia – 1,073
  6. Zammit- – 1,012
  7. Attard – 913
  8. Grech – 854
  9. Micallef – 831
  10. Spiteri – 809
  11. Muscat – 809
  12. Cassar – 762
  13. Azzopardi – 702
  14. Mifsud – 691
  15. Pace – 687
  16. Caruana – 629
  17. Gauci – 627
  18. Portelli – 511
  19. Gatt – 504
  20. Schembri – 481

The most apparent and admittedly fascinating observation one can make is that this inventory almost mirrors the frequency list stemming from the local 2005 Census. This intriguing symmetry only confirms that the great families of Malta are basically also those prevailing in Australia. To put it in other words, the microcosmic sampling of Maltese emigrants in Australia has proved to be an almost perfect replica of the local anthroponymic scenario. The top ten in Malta are incredibly the same top ten in Australia, only following a slightly different placing order. Out of the local 20 highest ranking surnames, 17 feature in the Australian roll. The three anomalous surnames (Gauci, Gatt, and Portelli), after all, are placed 22nd, 24th, and 32nd respectively in Malta. Portelli is incidentally the fifth commonest surname in Gozo.

Speaking of Maltese surnames downunder, it is interesting to observe that some of them have undergone a process of Anglicization. That this should be the case need not cause any surprise. The new environment which overwhelmingly transformed Australian mores and habits through community living, education, and intermarriage also extends its influence to such minute and apparently inconsequential details as the identification tags used as last names. Through the application of the law of minimum effort it has always been customary to shorten long names. If a surname is a compound, it is reasonable to reduce it to one of the two elements that compose it. In this manner, Azzopardi was clipped to Pardy. The same principle applies to polysyllabic family names, explaining the transformation of Buttigieg into Butt. In some cases, the alteration just involved the dropping of a final vowel as in Abel (< Abela) and Frend (< Frendo). Phonetic respellings were also in evidence: Sherry (< Scerri), Albany (< Albani), Coster (< Costa), However, in some instances, the shift involved varying degrees of arbitrariness as in Baldwin (< Baldacchino), Atkinson (< Aquilina), Bonney (< Bonnici), Bayard (< Bajada), Mack (< Magro), and Finch (< Fenech) (73).

Anglicization of Maltese (and by default Italian) surnames is realized by the drive of two strong forces converging upon the same goal from opposite directions. One force represents the non-Maltese neighbours, employers, foremen, and fellow-workers, who consciously or unconsciously in speech or in writing make Maltese surnames conform to English linguistic patterns, spelling, or individual names or types of names with which they happen to be already acquainted. The other force represents settlers of Maltese origin who deliberately change their names or tolerate modifications made by outsiders as a concession to their new milieu. There are, of course, some who feel that the anglicized name will eliminate the hurdle of prejudice that they might have to encounter in their social or business relations, and some who erroneously think that an anglicized name will make them better Australians.

Notes :
  1. The number of people of Maltese origin living in Canada is estimated at about 30,000 (1996 Canadian Census). The first documented Maltese to arrive in Canada was Louis Shickluna (Scicluna), ‘native of Malta’, who in 1838 came to St Catherine’s Ontario and established a large and prominent shipyard on the Welland Canal. Cf. R.S. Cumbo, ‘Present Situation of Maltese in Canada’, in Proceedings and Report, p. 35. According to statistics compiled by J.C. Lane, the number of Maltese who describe themselves as being of Maltese descent in the United States is 30,292; however, most of them (around 70%) were born in America to Maltese parents. Cf. J. Cassar, ‘L-Emigranti Maltin u r-Reliġjon -- Stati Uniti’, in Proceedings and Report (2000), p. 466.
  2. L.E. Attard, ‘Maltese Migration: A Historical Perspective’, in Proceedings and Report (2000), p. 7.
  3. S. Mallia, ‘Maltese culture will not die with first generation migrants’, in The Times [of Malta], 7/8/07, p. 7. According to the Australian 1996 Census, the figure then stood at 50,879. Cf. Proceedings and Report (2000), p. 22.
  4. ‘Maltese down under’, in The Times [of Malta], 8/8/2007, p. 9. A fascinating footnote in the history of Maltese migration reads that one Charles Agius, probably of Valletta, migrated to Australia around 1930 and took an Aboriginal wife, Laura, in 1939. According to his sons, Josie and Bob, there is now a community of about 700 Maltese-Aborigines, the single-handed achievement of their father who eventually retured to and died in Malta. Cf. S. Mallia, ‘The Maltese-Aborigines community Charles of Valletta set up in Adelaide’, in The Times [of Malta], 2/8/2007, p. 5.
  5. M. Carauna, ‘History of Emigration and the Present Situation in Australia’, in Proceedings and Report (2000), p. 15.
  6. Examples spotted by Mark Caruana in the New South Wales State Archives at Kingswood and recorded in an unpublished roll entitled ‘Maltese Surnames -- Change of Name by Deed Poll -- 1901--1947, NSW’. It would be interesting to investigate the course of Anglicization that transpired in other countries, such as Canada and the USA.

  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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