There is no letter "j" in Sicilian!

    Many Sicilian civil records or portions of records, when handwritten in the Italian language, show individualís surnames as Ajello, Alajmo, Lo Jacono, Ajera, and so on.  Occupations, professions and status of many persons are given as zolfatajo, caprajo, pecorajo, etc.

     This leads many novice researchers (and experienced ones as well) to assume that the letter that appears as a "j" is truly a "j", and is pronounced like the letter "j" in English.  It is not.

     The Sicilian language is extensively derived from Latin, and the Italian language was developed with Latin and Sicilian influences. If we consider Latin, there was no letter in that language that was pronounced like the English "j".  That means for example, that Julius Caesar's first name was pronounced not "JOO-lee-us", but "YOO-lee-us".  Again the letter that LOOKS like a J is actually an I, pronounced "Y".

     An argument presented by some contends that "J/j" is a valid Sicilian letter because early archaic Sicilian texts show the letter.  This is not proof that "J/j", as pronounced in English (IPA symbol
dʒ), was part of the Sicilian language pronunciation.  Yes, it appears in old texts, but in situations as noted above, as an "i" with a tail, pronounced like the English "Y/y", which is the sound expressed in the International Phonetic Alphabet as <y>, not .


     Here is a portion of an early 1800's church index of deaths for the town of Mussomeli, in Caltanisetta province, written in Latin.  The indices in that era, for this town, were organized by the given name of the decedent, then the relationship of the person to the other person listed, then the page number on which the death record can be found.  Note that the list includes the names Joanna, Jsabella, Joseph, Jgnatius, etc., because the script letter that LOOKS like a "J" is actually an upper-case "I".  There are no separate indices for "I" and "J", because they are the same letter.

     The practice was continued in written Sicilian and the Italian language records that followed.  There is no letter "j" in the Sicilian alphabet, nor in the later-developed Italian alphabet, although it may appear in modern usage when a foreign 'loan word' is used.
      The general rule is that if the letter "i" occurs between two other vowels or at the beginning of a word, followed by a vowel, it is written with a tail and pronounced like the English "y": if it appears at the beginning of a proper noun, followed by a vowel, it is written like an upper case "J" and pronounced "Y".  Another case is when the syllable containing the "i" has an "aye" sound, as in Alajmo, Majda, Pirajno, or Trajna.

      Below are some examples.  Note, these are presented here with type-set fonts, however, the "j" doesn't generally appear in printed Sicilian records, mostly in the handwritten portion of the records.  The "j" also sometimes appears in place of a trailing "i", as in "testimonj" (meaning "witnesses")
      Occupations       Surnames

acquajolo: water supplier
bottegajo, bottegaro: shopkeeper
calzolajo: shoemaker

caprajo, capraro: goatherd

crivellajo, crivellatore: sieve-maker
cretajo, cretaro
: potter

marinaio, marinaro: sailor

mascellaio: butcher
massaja, massara:

mugnajo: miller
operajo: worker
: pasta maker
pecorajo, pecoraro
: shepherd

rotaja, rotara: foundling wheel tender

ruotaja, ruotara: foundling wheel tender
stagnatajo: tinker, solderer
tegolajo, tegolaro: maker of roofing tiles

zolfajo, zolfaro
: sulfur miner
, zolfataro
: sulfur miner

Ajera, dell' Ajera
Jacono, Lo Jacono, Lojacono
Sajetta, Sajitta

NOTE:  Further corroborating the absence of the letter "J" in Sicilian: in order to make a sound like the "J" in English, the Sicilian and Italian languages use "Gi", as in Giacomo, Giovanni, etc., NOT "J".  Also see 'Latin Sicilian Names'.
SICILIAN LINKS Sicilianitŗ 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

Given Names

Convert 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 Orphans, Illegitimates, and Foundlings
Li Carusi ~ The Mine-boys Shortened Sicilian Given Names There is no letter "j" in Sicilian The Thing
  Womens' Surnames Masculine and Feminine Names  
       Read my book of historical fiction, The Lady of the Wheel, inspired by my experiences in Sicilian genealogical research.  It tells the story of foundlings and sulfur mine workers and life in their community of Racalmuto during the late 1800s in Sicily.  Interspersed in the tale are episodes derived from the real-life experiences of my family, which originated in the small Sicilian town of Serradifalco.





Robertsdale, Pennsylvania






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