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 pantheon of Maltese surnames

Surname studies can be conducted in three directions: in a historical sense, in a semantic sense, and in a geo-regional sense. Historical and semantic considerations are covered elsewhere. The following short notes provide information on the local distribution of the top-twenty family names in Malta. Their presence in Italy or Sicily, if any, is also qualified (49).

1. Borg

Semitic surname Borg placed sixth in the Militia List of 1419/20 but had already climbed to first place by the time of the Status Animarum (diocesan census) of 1687. It is still the most common surname in Malta. Results show that 13,456 persons, or 3.3% of the whole population, bear this surname. It is most prevalent in the Northern Harbour and Western Districts, where around 4.2% of residents in these two districts, carry this surname. On a locality basis, some 10.4% of all persons bearing this surname, reside in Birkirkara (50). Borg, in fact, has four main nuclei: (a) Birkirkara (1st in ranking order), Attard (1st), Balzan (1st), Lija (1st), and Iklin (1st); (b) Ħamrun (1st), Pietà (1st), Msida (1st), and Santa Venera (2nd); (b) Gzira (1st), San Gwann (1st), St Julians (1st), Swieqi (1st), Ta’ Xbiex (2nd), and Sliema (2nd); and (d) Qormi (1st), Żebbuġ (1st), and Siggiewi (2nd). It is also the top-ranking surname in Valletta, Mtarfa, and Xgħajra. Its numbers are further augmented by several double-barrelled surnames such as Borg Olivier, Borg Costanzi, Borg Cardona, Borg Barthet, Borg Bartolo, Borg Bonaci, Borg Galea, Borg Hedley, Borg Falzon, Borg Bonello, Borg Caruana, Borg Carabott, Borg Grech, Borg Marks, Borg Manduca, Borg Manchè, Borg Myatt, Borg Millo, Borg Xuereb, and Borg Hampton.

In Italy Borg is extant in 17 communes. Borgi is represented in 58 communes, mainly in Tuscany and Lazio, whereas the less common Burgi and Borgio are both counted in 21 communes. These cognate forms, showing different spellings, probably represent adaptations, and a two-way lane of induction cannot be excluded. Some Italians bearing these surnames can after all be of Maltese origin.

2. Camilleri

Camilleri did not feature among the top-ten surnames in the Militia List of 1419/20, but had already climbed to third place at the time of the Status Animarum of 1687. At present, there are 12,864 persons, or 3.2% of the population who carry this presumably Sicilian surname. Many Camilleris reside in Mosta where some 6.2% of all individuals bear this surname. It is now the second commonest surname in Malta and the third commonest surname in Gozo. Camilleri has two main nuclei: (a) Mosta (1st in ranking order), Naxxar (1st), Birkirkara (2nd), Attard (2nd), Balzan (2nd); and (b) Marsa (1st), Luqa (1st), Żurrieq (2nd). It is also the top-ranking surname in Sliema, Żabbar, and Nadur (Gozo). Its numbers are further augmented by several double-barrelled surnames such as Camilleri Brennan, Camilleri Cauchi, Camilleri Fava, Camilleri Kamsky, Camilleri Mercieca, and Camilleri Galea.

In Italy Camilleri is extant in 128 communes; it is mainly concentrated in Sicily, especially in Palermo, Agrigento, Caltanissetta, and Catania. Its presence in the north (Piedmont, Lombardy, and Liguria) is perhaps best explained by internal migration.

3. Vella

Italian surname Vella was probably the most widespread surname in Malta in the Late Middle Ages, as testified by the Militia List of 1419/20. It placed fifth in the Status Animarum of 1687. Today Vella comes in third place with 11,998, or 3.0% of the enumerated population. Of these, around 36.6% of all persons bearing this surname are living in the Northern District and Gozo. It tops the ranking order at Mellieħa, Mġarr (Malta), St Paul’s Bay, and Paola, and stands at 2nd place in Cospicua, Senglea, Żabbar, Pietà, Naxxar, and Mosta. On a locality level, some 6.8% of all persons who carry this surname reside at Mellieha. Its concentration in the northern part of Malta is supplemented by the fact that it is also the commonest surname in Gozo (4.8%), where it is particularly conspicuous at Xewkija (1st in ranking order), Rabat (2nd), Munxar (2nd), Sannat (2nd), and Kercem (2nd). Its numbers are further augmented by several double-barrelled surnames such as Vella Bamber, Vella Bardon, Vella Bondin, Vella Bonnici, Vella Briffa, Vella Brincat, Vella Clark(e), Vella Critien, Vella De Fremeaux, Vella Galea, Vella Gera, Vella Gregory, Vella Haber, Vella Laurenti, Vella Petroni, Vella Muscat, Vella Tomlin, and Vella Zarb.

In Italy Vella is counted in 535 communes. Strong numbers occur in southern and western Sicily as well as in the Agrigento area. There are significant nuclei around Rome and Naples, and once more it is also very much conspicuous in the North (Tuscany and Lombardy). The variant Bella (actually the base form) is present in 351 communes and is quite conspicuous in the Catania area.

4. Farrugia

In terms of frequency, Farrugia ranked third in the Militia List of 1419/20 and second in the Status Animarum of 1687. It is now the fourth commonest surname in Malta, borne by 11,725 persons, or 2.9% of the total population. It prevails in greater numbers in the Southern Harbour and South Eastern Districts, where around 3.7% of the population residing there, bear this surname. It has three main nuclei: (a) Vittoriosa (1st in ranking order), Cospicua (1st), Fgura (1st), and Kalkara (3rd); (b) Tarxien (2nd), Gudja (1st), and Santa Lucija (1st); and (c) Żurrieq (1st), Mqabba (1st), Qrendi (1st), Kirkop (1st), and Safi (3rd). It is also the top-ranking surname at Siggiewi and Birżebbuġa and stands at second place in Dingli, Tarxien, and Ħaż-Żebbuġ. Its numbers are further augmented by several double-barrelled surnames such as Farrugia Randon, Farrugia Roberts, Farrugia Wismayer, Farrugia Sacco, and Farrugia Vella.

In Italy Farrugia is represented in 21 communes. The cognate form Farruggia, occurring in 160 communes, is mainly counted in Sicily, especially Palermo, Agrigento, and Caltanissetta.

5. Zammit

In terms of frequency, Zammit ranked second in the Militia List of 1419/20 and sixth in the Status Animarum of 1687. It is now the fifth commonest surname in Malta, borne by 9,554 persons, or 2.4% of the total population. It tops the ranking order at Tarxien, Santa Venera, Ta’ Xbiex, Pembroke, and Safi, and stands at second place at Kirkop, Lija, Marsa, Mqabba, Qormi, and Valletta. Its numbers are further augmented by several double-barrelled surnames such as Zammit Briffa, Zammit Ciantar, Zammit Cordina, Zammit Cutajar, Zammit Endrich, Zammit Fava, Zammit Haber, Zammit La Rosa, Zammit Lupi, Zammit Maempel, Zammit Mangion, Zammit Marmarà, Zammit Mckeon, and Zammit Tabona.

In Italy Zammit occurs in 18 communes; its cognate form, Zammitti, is evident in 37 communes, registering a conspicuous presence in Syracuse, and a less pronounced one in Palermo. Zammitto appears in 12 communes but the dissimilated form Zambito occurs in no less than 96 communes, again prevailing in the Agrigento area.

6. Galea

The Status Animarum of 1687 shows that then 23.5% of all Galeas resided at Mosta (51). It then stood in 14th place, but at present, it ranks 6th with 8,666 members, or 2.1% of the whole population. It places second in both Rabat (Malta) and Mtarfa. Its numbers are further augmented by several double-barrelled surnames such as Galea Curmi, Galea Debono, Galea Cavallazzi, Galea Musù, Galea Naudi, Galea Pace, Galea Scannura, Galea Testaferrata, and Galea Souchet.

In Italy Galea is represented in 58 communes; its chief centre seems to be Calabria.

7. Micallef

Micallef was the fifth commonest surname in 1419/20, but only 13th in the Status Animarum of 1687. The latter enumeration showed that then 32.6% of all Micallefs resided at Birkirkara (52). It is now the top-ranking family name at Floriana, Dingli, and Rabat (Malta), and stands at second place at Mdina, Msida, San Ġwann, Xgħajra, and Iklin. The present total number of Micallefs stands at 8,494, or roughly 2.1% of the whole population. Its numbers are further augmented by several double-barrelled surnames such as Micallef Attard, Micallef Decesare, Micallef Borg, Micallef Engerer, Micallef Eynaud, Micallef Grimaud, Micallef Trigona, Micallef St John, and Micallef Stafrace.

In Italy Micallef is counted in 14 communes; its degeminated form, Micalef, occurs in 19 communes.

8. Grech

Grech ranked fourth in the Status Animarum of 1687. With 7,958, or 2.0% of the whole population, it has now slipped to eighth place. It is most conspicuous at Vittoriosa (2nd) and Kalkara (2nd). Grech is also the fourth commonest surname in Gozo, where it ranks first at Rabat and Kercem, and second at Għajnsielem and Għarb. Its numbers are further augmented by several double-barrelled surnames such as Grech Cumbo, Grech Ellul, Grech Mallia, Grech Marguerat, Grech Orr, and Grech Sant.

In Italy Grech is extant in 22 communes; its cognate form Grechi features in no less than 221 communes. The latter surname is scattered all over north and central Italy, with higher densities registered in Lombardy. The profuse Greco, in turn, is overwhelmingly present in 2,227 communes, making it the tenth commonest surname in Italy.

9. Attard

Attard just made the top-twenty list in 1687. It has now climbed to ninth place with 7,466 members, or 1.8% of the total population. Attard is the top-ranking surname at Mdina. It is also the second commonest surname in Gozo, where it is most conspicuous at Fontana (1st), Xewkija (2nd), and Xagħra (2nd). Its numbers are further augmented by several double-barrelled surnames such as Attard Baldacchino, Attard Bason, Attard Bezzina, Attard Biancardi, Attard Bondi, Attard Cassar, Attard Flores, Attard Kingswell, Attard Montalto, Attard MacCarthy, and Attard Portughes.

In Italy Attard is represented in 20 communes. The full forms Attardo and Attardi are much more copious, appearing in 120 and 132 communes respectively. The former is chiefly Sicilian, registering higher densities in the Agrigento area.

10. Spiteri

Spiteri did not make the top-twenty in 1687. Its ascent has thereby been quite remarkable; numbering 7,335 and covering 1.8% of the total population, it is now the 10th commonest surname in Malta. Spiteri is mainly concentrated in the Żejtun-Għaxaq and Luqa-Marsa areas. Its numbers are further augmented by several double-barrelled surnames such as Spiteri Bailey, Spiteri Fiteni, Spiteri Cremona, Spiteri Debono, Spiteri Gonzi, Spiteri Lucas, Spiteri Paris, Spiteri Maempel, Spiteri Sacco, Spiteri Shaw, and Spiteri Staines.

Spiteri occurs in 49 Italian communes. There is a somewhat marked presence in Licata, Sicily. Spitaleri, one of its possible cognates, is present in 221 communes.

11. Azzopardi

Azzopardi (rarely Azopardi) ranked ninth in 1419/20 and tenth in the 1687. It is now the 12th commonest surname in Malta, maintaining a steady presence over just less than six centuries of history. 7,049 persons bearing this surname comprise 1.7% of the population. In Gozo it is mainly concentrated at Għajnsielem, Għarb, and Xewkija.

In Italy Azzopardi shows up only in six communes; its singular form, Azzopardo, is recorded only in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia.

12. Cassar

Cassar (very rarely Kassar) is one of the oldest surnames in Malta; it ranked eighth in the Militia List of 1419/20 and 18th in the Status Animarum of 1687. It has since climbed back to 11th place. 7,044 persons bearing this surname comprise 1.7% of the total population. It is now the top-ranking family name at Kalkara, Marsaskala, and Għarb (Gozo). Its numbers are further augmented by several double-barrelled surnames such as Cassar Desain, Cassar Galea, Cassar Mallia, Cassar Pullicino, Cassar Parnis, Cassar Delia, Cassar White, Cassar Aveta, Cassar Torreg(g)iani, and Cassar Naudi.

Cassar occurs in 60 Italian communes, but Cassaro is extant in 138 communes. The latter mainly prevails in the Agrigento-Caltanissetta-Licata axis. Its significant presence in the North (especially Lombardy) is best explained by internal migration

13. Mifsud

Semitic surname Mifsud was the ninth commonest surname in 1687. Today 6,674 persons bearing this surname comprise 1.6% of the population. Its numbers are further augmented by the copious double-barreled surname Mifsud Bonnici, and to a much lesser extent by Mifsud Tommasi.

Mifsud occurs in small numbers in 11 Italian communes.

14. Caruana

The Status Animarum of 1687 shows that then 23.2% of all Caruanas resided at Żejtun (53); it placed in eighth place in the overall rankings. Caruana is today the top-ranking family name at Senglea and stands at second place in Għaxaq and Marsaxlokk. 6,562 persons bearing this surname comprise 1.6% of the population. Its numbers are further augmented by several double-barrelled surnames such as Caruana Curran, Caruana Galizia, Caruana Montaldo, Caruana Scicluna, Caruana Smith, Caruana Colombo, Caruana Turner, and Caruana Dingli.

In Italy Caruana is extant in 149 communes; it is particularly conspicuous in the Agrigento, Caltanissetta, and Palermo

15. Muscat

Muscat placed 11th in the Status Animarum of 1687. It now tops the ranking order at Sannat (Gozo) and stands at second place in Mġarr (Malta). 6,187 persons bearing this surname comprise 1.5% of the population. Its numbers are further augmented by several double-barrelled surnames such as Muscat Azzopardi, Muscat Baron, Muscat Doublesin, Muscat Scerri, Muscat Drago, Muscat Terribile, and Muscat Fenech.

In Italy Muscat occurs in just five communes, but its full form, Muscato, is counted in 43 communes, particularly in Sicily and Apulia. The cognate form Moscato is much commoner and appears in 423 communes.

16. Agius

Agius ranked seventh in the Status Animarum of 1687. At present 5,911 persons bearing this surname comprise 1.5% of the population. Its numbers are further augmented by doubled-barrelled surnames such as Agius Ferrante, Agius Delicata, Agius Fernandez, Agius Muscat, Agius Cutajar, Agius Scicluna, Agius Decelis, and Agius Vadalà.

In Italy Agius is very rare; it occurs only in six communes.

17. Schembri

Schembri was the fourth commonest surname in Malta around 1419/20, but had slipped to 15th place by 1687. At present 4,955 persons bearing this surname comprise 1.2% of the population. Its numbers are further augmented by several doubled-barrelled surnames such as Schembri Wismayer and Schembri Adami.

In Italy Schembri occurs in 199 communes. It prevails mainly in Sicily, stretching across the whole southern part of the island from Agrigento to Catania. The numbers counted in the North are probably the result of internal migration.

18. Abela

The Status Animarum of 1687 shows that then 22.6% of all Abelas resided at Żabbar (54). At present Abela is the top-ranking surname at Żejtun and contiguous Għaxaq. 4,948 persons bearing this surname comprise 1.2% of the population. Its numbers are further augmented by several double-barrelled surnames such as Abela Caruana, Abela Medici, Abela Wilson, Abela Fitzpatrick, Abela Vassallo, Abela Wadge, and Abela Scolaro.

Abela is represented in 39 Italian communes.

19. Fenech

In 1687 Fenech stood in 17th place; its ranking value has thus not altered much. At present 4,758 persons bearing this surname comprise 1.2% of the population. Its numbers are further augmented by several double-barrelled surnames such as Fenech Adami, Fenech Azzopardi, Fenech Clarke, Fenceh Conti, Fenech Pace, Fenech Laudi, and Fenech Soler.

Fenech is extant in 33 Italian communes. Its chief centre seems to be Palermo province.

20. Pace

The Status Animarum of 1687 shows that then 30.5% of all Paces hailed from the Żebbuġ-Siġġiewi area (55). In that enumeration Pace placed 16th among the commonest family names in Malta. At present 4,502 persons bearing this surname comprise 1.1% of the population. Its numbers are further augmented by several double-barrelled surnames such as Pace Asciak, Pace Balzan, Pace Bardon, Pace Bonello, Pace Decesare, Pace Gasan, Pace Gouder, Pace Moore, Pace O’Shea, and Pace Ross.

Pace is a very copious surname in Italy, counted in no less than 1,258 communes.

Notes :
  1. This data is lifted from the website gens.labo.com.
  2. The percentages for individual localities and regions are based on data provided by the aforementioned press release ‘A Focus on Surnames’ (NSO, 5/6/06); hence the figures are subject to slight modifications.
  3. Fiorini (1986), p. 65.
  4. Fiorini (1986), p. 65.
  5. Fiorini (1986), p. 65.
  6. Fiorini (1986), p. 65.
  7. Fiorini (1986), p. 65.

  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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