Where do we come from?

Curiosities about our origins.

Origins and etymology of family surname



here do I have to begin? This has been the first question that I was wondering from the beginning, not being a genealogist or heraldry expert and not having many sources to consult either, apart Internet. Then I decided to make searches and little by little I have discovered several things about the history and meaning of my italian surname and the persons who carry it, my relatives, but also perfect strangers; finding out the origin of surnames is never that simple and in fact this page, like the entire website, I see it as a continuous upgrade, even not constant, but always fed by my will to know something more, and that's why I don't feel disappointed by the fact that I'll find more and more difficulty to search fresh news about my homonyms, but in the end who cares? Nobody always knows everything...

The birth of surnames in their real definition is not very ancient and during centuries they were subjected to different changes. Used by Romans 2000 years ago, with the decadence of the Roman Empire their importance had been fading, coming back in noble or famous families during 1000-1100 A.D., while between common people there was the not-written rule of the name, nickname or place of origins and that was enough to distinguish a family group from a different one. It's only during the end of 1300, 1400 and the beginning of 1500 that surnames start to spread between common people. Indeed, during that ages and for a long time after, people was divided in noblemen and servants, and for workers there wasn't so much spare time used in distinguishing theirselves. Differently from Irish, German, English, French and Jewish surnames, in Italy, after the "Concilio di Trento" in 1564, the Roman Church introduced the obligation for parishes to keep regular baptism records both for names and surnames in order to avoid weddings between blood relatives. That's also true for the surname Papaccio which wasn't certainly born in a day or from the desire of my ancestors of calling themselves in that way, and like others it had been also subjected to various mutations during the centuries.

Papaccio is an unusual last name for who hears it for the very first time, in fact it sounds just like a nickname you've been given. Indeed every last name, like many others in the world, always represents a distinctive characteristic that your ancestor carried, just like his personality, just like his paternity and just like his job.

Browsing some books and the Net, and talking with my own parents, I have found different versions about the origins and etymology of my surname.

The first one begins from the fact that the root papa- comes from the Greek language, whose Italian translation is literally "priest", but during centuries this was also a term of respect, and this is due to the active influence of Greek and Byzantine culture in southern Italy and specifically in Naples. Therefore I tried to understand the right explanation and that one led me to think that my ancestor was not a recommendable person, "one that preach well for others but himself" and so nicknamed "Papaccio", a kind of "I know everything". Mine are always conjectures, but I believe this is the more reasonable explanation. Keeping in mind this origin, we can also consider an italianization of the Greek surname Papakis, done with the arrival of an ancestor of mine from Greece to Italy in medieval age.

The second one grows in the rural world instead. The great majority of men has ancestors who have been peasants and nowadays it sounds always a kind of strange; indeed if someone thinks about past, he never imagines to be a descendant from simple peasants or craftsmen, even coming from small villages that doesn't exist anymore, but the hard truth is always the more expectable thing. Resuming the speech from the beginning, my last name may derive from the name of the town Papaccio not so far from Naples, giving us a clear geographic origin, or from the term "Papaccella". This is a vegetable similar to the green peperoni that has been always eaten after that it has been put under olive oil and vinegar. Therefore this leads to think that my ancestor has been a peasant of papaccelle and even a great connoisseur of this vegetable, or maybe he has been nicknamed so because he had flat feet just like the crushed papaccelle, who knows...

Even though these versions of the facts may be the right ones, definitely only my ancestor knows the truth.

However I will try to find new indications about the origins of my last name and who knows what I will find...

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