Cognomi:
Sicilian Surnames

Surnames (cognomi in Sicilian, cognome in Italian) are a relatively recent development, introduced about five hundred years ago.  I have three other pages on this topic: surnames that developed from nicknames, at Ngiurii: Sicilian Nicknames; those derived from place-names, at Surnames from Town Names; and those related to family 'arms' or crests, at Arms of Sicily.

In addition, I have a page on abandoned children, whose made-up surnames fill a whole different category, at Foundlings.

In the future, I'll discuss here other types of surnames and their origins, but to start with I present below a translation of an on-line article that can be found in its original form at Il Mondo News, written by Lorenzo Cirelli.  Note that where surnames imply nobility or power, they do not necessarily mean the bearer's ancestors bore those titles, but may simply have worked for such persons or in the communities under their domain.
 

WE WERE ALL MASTER CRAFTSMEN, ABBOTS, DUKES, NOTARIES, ETC.
HOW A SIMPLE NICKNAME, OR A TRADE CONDUCTED BY OUR ANCESTOR, CAN HAVE LATER INFLUENCE ON OUR SURNAME

Sometimes in our names there are very important and indelible traces of the pasts of our ancestors. For example, an honorific title given in a community for a family with a certain type of profession, or a person who held a prominent office.

In this article I will discuss the origin of some prefixes (not to be confused with Di, De, La, Lo, Della, Delli, which are patronymic prefixes that are treated in previous articles).

We'll talk of surnames beginning with social, political or trade-related prefixes; a widespread form is a variation of Ser-(signore), as in Seripando (‘Signor’ or ‘Mr.’ Ipando); Sarnicola or Sernicola (Signor Nicola); Sersale or Serisale (Signor Isale), and then many others, usually used in reference to a very important person in a community. This does not mean, however, that its founder had been a ‘gentleman’, but more likely that the founder of the family worked in the employ of a local lord or that the progenitor was simply worthy of respect and nothing more.  Of course not all surnames beginning with ‘Ser-‘ or ‘Sar-‘ have this origin, and surnames ending in ‘-aro’, are most likely arisen from trades and those ending in ‘-ano’ indicate a place of origin.

Then there are other prefixes:

Abate-: Abategiovanni; Abaterusso; Abatangelo; Abatianni; Gianni Abate; Abbatecola, etc., indicating, usually, the family included an abbot of a monastery.

Mastro-: Mastrogiovanni; Mastrosimone; Mastrolonardo (Mastro Leonardo); Mastrolitto (Mastro Litto); Mastroddi (Mastro Oddo); Mastrofini (Mastro Up); Mastrorilli (Mastro Rillo); Mastrantonio; Mastrogiacomo; Mastromattei; Mastrofrancesco etc., indicating a master craftsman.

Console-: Consolmagno etc. (See Console, Consoli, etc.), having to do with a counselor.

Duca-: the Ducagiuliano etc., having to do with a Duke, or an ancestor with the attitudes or bearing of a ‘duke’.

Notaro-: Notarnicola; Notargiacomo; de Notaristefani (corr. to de Notaristefanis) etc. indicating they had a notary in the family or were under the authority of a notary.

Barone-: Barsanti (Barone Sante) etc. having to do with a Baron, or an ancestor with the attitudes or bearing of a ‘baron’; although, in some cases, the surname Baron and derivatives were from the Germanic name Barone, from ‘freeman’.

Vicario-: Iacovo de Vicar, Del Vicario, Dello Vicario, etc indicating they had a Vicar in the family or were under the authority of a Vicar.

Monsieur-: Monsurrocco; Monsurrò (abbr. of the previous name) and so on, indicating the ancestor may have had a monsignor in the family or have been employed by a monsignor, although it is possibly a derivation from the French word ‘monsieur’ or ‘sir.’

Proto-: meaning principal or chief; Protonotaro (Chief Notary); Protomastro; Protogiudice; etc.

There are also the surname prefixes ‘Do-’, ‘Don-' and 'Dom-', which therefore reveal the retention of Dominus (i.e. ‘signore’, ‘lord’; see the case of surnames prefixed by ‘Ser-‘), as Donsante (Don Sante), Dongiovanni (Don Giovanni), Dommarco (Don Marco), etc.

Many other patronymics retain the prefixes ‘Fra-’ and ‘Frat-’ (fratello, brother), for example surnames such as Fratianni, Frateloreto, etc., because they originated from the names of ancient monks, so common in the Middle Ages, who were obviously not obliged to celibacy, or having had a friar in the family or having been placed under the authority of a friar; in some rare cases such appositions meant instead 'Knight of Malta', because it was precisely the common use to precede the names of these riders with this title, in the sense of ‘brother’.

In the next article we will discuss just surnames that are derived from trade names, which represent a large slice of Italian surnames. ~ Lorenzo Cirelli

 
 
SICILIAN LINKS Sicilianità Is Sicily 'Italy'? The Sicilian Languge
Cognomi ~ Sicilian Surnames Ngiurii ~ Sicilian Nicknames Place-names as surnames Sicilian Coats of Arms
Foundlings The Sicilian Naming Convention Americanized Sicilian Given Names Converting Latin given names to Sicilian
La Bedda Sicilia ~ My history of Sicily Heritage Path ~ original Sicilian records Civil Record Format ~ 1820 - 1910 I'm a Sicilian American
My Lectures on Sicilian Genealogy Sicilian Occupations in Civil Records Sicilian Records at the Buffalo FHC The Thing
 
 
  ~ The Lady of the Wheel (La Ruotaia), my first book, inspired by my genealogical research of Sicilian families.  It's a historical novella about foundlings and sulfur mine workers in 1860s Racalmuto, a town in central Sicily.

            

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