relatives name in his/her original language is very important. Before you start
searching old records, take the time to determine the right name, including its correct
spelling. Below on the left is a table of Sicilian/Italian surnames with
their pronunciation and their meanings or literal translations, followed by
the names they may have been changed to in America. Similarly on the
right is a table arranged by Americanized surnames showing the
Sicilian/Italian names from which they may have been derived.
Contrary to widespread belief,
immigrants' names were not "changed at Ellis Island."
The passenger manifests for the ships on which immigrants arrived were made
out at the point of embarkation, by native language speakers. There
may have been minor spelling errors, but not wholesale changes, and Ellis
Island immigration officials (and Castle Garden officials before them) used
the names as they were on the manifests. Often, names were
'Anglicized', that is, modified after the immigrant had settled somewhere,
by American clerks, employers or neighbors who could not or would not
pronounce the "foreign names". So names were often modified to a more
recognizable (or acceptable) name. Since many immigrants were
illiterate and actually did not know how to spell their own names, they may
have accepted incorrect or completely different versions of their name.
In the pronunciation guide, the emphasized syllable is
shown in CAPITALS. Note that vowels in both the Sicilian
and Italian languages have the following
sounds: A is ah; E is eh (long
a); I is ee; O is oh (long
o), and U is oo (like the "oo" in "foot".. A, E, I, O,
U in Italian is ah, eh, ee, oh, oo!! The English
sound of I (long i as in eye) is given by the combination ai
in Sicilian or Italian. Sicilian/Italian have no letter "k", "y" or "w".
They have a letter written like "j", but this "j" is actually a form of the
letter "i", and is pronounced as we would pronounce "y" in English.
may ask "What is the English translation of the Sicilian surname _______?"
and many surnames were translated
literally. Thus, Curto became Short, and Molinaro
(moh-lih-NAH-roh) became Miller. Some names
were converted phonetically into English spellings. For example,
Castello in Sicilian is pronounced kah-STELL-oh, but Americans
thought it should be spelled Costello. Some changes were
simply modified spellings, for example changing Ganci (GAHN-chee) to
Gangi. Some were one-time errors on censuses or
naturalization records, as in my family's case: Coniglio (coh-NEEL-yoh)
These are nat all the possible variations
There are limitless possibilities for the Anglicization of Sicilian/Italian
names, especially since in many cases, the first letter of the 'foreign'
name was simply used as the first letter of a completely different