We all carry it. It’s that defining feature that lets everyone know literally everything about you; who your parents are, where you live and where you most likely went to school. Surnames, in Malta, are a big deal.
But what do they mean?
Mitkellma have released an explainer of what some Maltese surnames literally mean, and their definitions can be grouped up in stranger ways than you might think.
1. The food families
Psaila sounds like bsajla, which is a basla zgħira (a ‘small onion’), while Theuma comes from the Arabic word tewma for garlic. In the past, this was pronounced with a ‘th’, and that’s how the surname kept that form.
2. The bird families
Chetcuti comes from the Arabic word katkût, which in Maltese is fellus li għadu kif faqqas (‘a chick that has just hatched’). Farrugia comes from al-farrûdj which is tiġieġ in Maltese and ‘chicken’ in English and Buttigieg also, while Gallo comes from sriedaq, which means ‘cockerels’.
3. The other animals families
If you’re a Zerafa, then your name probably comes from the Arabic word zarâfah which sounds like ġiraffa (‘giraffe’) in Maltese. Ebejer comes from the plural of għabura, which is a ‘one-year-old sheep’.
4. The travelling families
Those coming from Sicily are likely to be called Siracusa or Trapani. If you’re England then you’re from, well, England. And those named Genovese get their name from Genova.
Heading further east, Grech comes from Greece, while Pollacco is from Poland. And, of course, Gauci hu wieħed Għawdxi (‘is a Gozitan’).
5. The professions families
So you’re a Micallef? Then you’re probably a imħallef (‘a judge’). Calleja was a bidwi (‘a farmer’) and Buhagiar comes from the Arabic abû hadjar, which is sid ġebel; an owner of a stone quarry or of many lands.
6. The physical families
Many Maltese surnames, however, have to do with some physical quality. These include ones like Magro, which means thin (or irqiq in Maltese), and Grasso for the fat ones (which in Maltese is oħxon). Mangion is the person who likes to eat a lot (‘iħobb jiekol ħafna’).
And us Maltese have got such a sweet tooth, that there’s a Maltese surname that means cakes; Sultana.