Ngiurii:
Sicilian Nicknames

Foundlings

 
The Sicilian word "ngiuria" literally, means "insult".  The plural form, meaning "insults", is "ngiurii" (in English phonetics, n-JOO-rih-yih).  In common usage, the word also refers to descriptive nicknames that were given to individuals and sometimes their whole families.  The words are also sometimes spelled "nciuria" and "nciurii". The Italian word is "sopranome".

I believe one reason for the wide use of nicknames was the Sicilian Naming Convention, by which a couple's first son was named after his paternal grandfather, second son after his maternal grandfather, first daughter after her paternal grandmother, and second daughter after her maternal grandmother.  In the next generation, this could lead to several cousins of about the same age with identical names.  Pietro Rossi, for example, could have five sons, and if they all had sons and abided by custom, there would be five cousins named Pietro Rossi!
 
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'.

The following essay was brought to my attention by my friend Anthony Di Renzo of Ithaca College. It was written by Angela Marino for the website siciliafan.it, which also posted this Sicilian street scene.

I have translated it from Italian, and added some of my own "ngiurii" , shown in red italics, 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 out. 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 today!!! ......

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 second surname.

One last thing: we generally talk of ngiurii as something outdated, an ancient custom: nothing could be more wrong!

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 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)

Romanina (from Roma)

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 peanuts

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 streetlamps)

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 church

Stagnataru (Lead man)= tinker

Stigghiularu = vendor of stigghiole (roasted entrails)

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

~ by Angela Marino                                                                                    

lu Strazzatu (torn) = the raggedy man

la Strega = the witch

Cantalanotti = he sings at night

Panzariddu = little belly

Paladino = paladin, military leader

Mangiasuasorelli = she devours her sisters

Faccilorda = dirty face

 

Angelo F. Coniglio

Click HERE for a list of nicknames from the village of Montedoro

Click HERE for a list of nicknames from the village of Castellammare

For a discussion of other derivations of Sicilian surnames, click HERE


 

 
 
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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