To distinguish between
these cousins, the fat one might be called Pietro Grasso
Rossi, the tall one Pietro Longo Rossi, etc. Their
descendants then might carry both names forward to future
generations as 'compound surnames'. At some point, a
family might use only one or the other of the surnames,
sometimes dropping the original surname, and using only the
following essay was brought to my attention by
Di Renzo of Ithaca College. It was
written by Angela Marino for the
siciliafan.it, which also posted
this Sicilian street scene.
I have translated it from Italian, and added
some of my own "ngiurii" , shown in
and have included some thoughts afterwards.
Ancient Sicilian tradition gave great
importance to nicknames; "ngiurii", or "insults" as
they were called in Sicilian.
Their origin is lost in the mists of time; they often
stemmed from the place of origin of a person or his work, or
a physical characteristic or his attitude, or the names of
animals and things, or are a form of onomatopoeia ... .
sometimes they are words or expressions difficult to relate
to something concrete, and meaningless (at least for those
of our era).
Li ngiurii have always been part of Sicilian culture
and have always been widely used, especially in small towns
where people are known more by their ngiuria than by their
surname. Alas, however, to call a person directly by his
ngiuria, great offenses and bloody fights could break
In fact, while in other civilizations, the nickname was often
used to glorify a character or to distinguish him through
homonyms (Example: Alessandro "Magno", or "the
Great"; Frederick "Barbarossa", or Redbeard"), in the
Sicilian culture, "ngiuria" means "insult, offense,"
even when there may be nothing offensive in the inherent
meaning of the word.
When without knowing it, a person (usually a non-local)
addresses another by his ngiuria instead
of his surname, instantly a chilling silence occurs among
all those present, followed sometimes by some clumsy attempt
at an explanation and often by great offenses or disputes
...... and this, especially in small towns ... even
However, the fact is that these "ngiurii"
can be duly
declined in masculine, feminine and plural forms, and, preceded by the articles "lu" (masculine "the") for
men, "la" for females and "li" for the plural,
were often automatically extended to whole branches of the family and handed
down from father to son.
Today some of them, Italianized, have become second
surnames, officially recorded at the registry, and serve
to distinguish the various branches of an ancient family, or
have even become surnames themselves.
For example, Petru Fuddruni, if I remember correctly,
is the nickname of a character in the popular Sicilian
narrative, a kind of "stooge".
Well, his ngiuria, duly Italianized as "Fullone",
is now often officially recorded in registry offices, like a
One last thing: we generally talk of ngiurii as
something outdated, an ancient custom: nothing could be more
The tradition of ngiurii is still active and thriving
on our beautiful island [and even
in in Sicilian American communities]!
How else to explain nicknames such as:
"Charlie the Hat", "Joe Nerves" or "Sammy the Horse"?
Here is a list of ngiurii, many of them suggested by
facebook friends, in fact I apologize for not having
entered all ... but it would take an encyclopedia:
Ngiurii derived from actual or inferred place of origin*:
Barese (from Bari)
Canicattinisi (from Canicattì)
Cataluchisi (from Cattolica Eraclea)
Dunnera (d'unni era?, where was he
from?), a person of dubious origin
Favarisi (from Favara)
Marinisi (from Porto Empedocle)
Napolitano (from Napoli)
Romanina (from Roma)
Tripolitano (from Tripoli)
Tirminisi (from Termini Imerese)
* Note: 'Place
of origin' ngiurii did not necessarily mean that
the person was from that place. It might mean that
he/she had the mannerisms, speech patterns, or physical
appearance (real or imagined) of someone from that place.
Such surnames also were commonly given to
foundlings to indicate that they were from 'somewhere
else', that is, out of wedlock.
On the job:
Annaca li Rocchi (rock the stones) = mason
Avvucaticchiu (lentil lawyer) = Lawyer who works for
Babbaluciaru = seller of snails
Baruni = Baron
Carnaru (meat man) = carnezziere, butcher
Chiavitteri = one who works the keys
Ciuraru or sciuraru = florist
Azzusaru = Gazzusaru or seller of gas
Gnuri = coachman
Lampiunaru = lamplighter (who lit and extinguished
Mammanu (Breast man) = obstetrician
Pignataru = potter, tinker
Puparu = puppeteer, puppeteer
Pusteri = Postman
Sangunaru (Blood man) = pudding seller
Siggiara (Chair lady) = keeper of the chairs of the
Stagnataru (Lead man)= tinker
Stigghiularu = vendor of stigghiole (roasted
Stratunaru (Road man) = maintenaner of roads
Stuppacannola (unplug drain)= plumber
Suriotu = usurer
Vardiddraru = maker of harnesses for the pack animals
From physical characteristics or attitudes:
Babbu funnutu = completely stupid
Baggiana = foolish woman
Biunnu = blond