Malta has a wealth of surnames, some traced to every part of the world. Yet three quarters of the population shares the same 100 surnames.

The 2011 census recorded a total of 19,104 surnames. The top 10 are: Borg, Camilleri, Vella, Farrugia, Zammit, Galea, Micallef, Grech, Attard, Spiteri and Azzopardi. A quarter of the population – 99,516 – own just these 10 surnames. A total of 178,018 people – 44 per cent – have surnames which make it to the top 25 list.

And 75 per cent of the population – 307,886 people – share the same 100 surnames said linguist Mario Cassar.

This, he said, probably shows a degree of inbreeding.

Gozo – due to its smaller size – gives a clearer picture of this idiosyncrasy. One typical Gozitan surname seems to be Rapa but the surname Xuereb is predominate in Għajnsielem, Mintoff in Għasri, Debrincat in Munxar, Grima in San Lawrenz, Sultana in Xagħra and Cini in Żebbuġ.

“If you meet a Gozitan with Buttiġieġ as a surname you can almost be certain that he’d be from Qala,” Dr Cassar said.

There are also some peculiar trends in Malta, such as the strong showings of Abela in Żejtun, Aquilina in Għargħur, Bugeja in Marsaxlokk, Magro in Qrendi, Dalli in Gudja, and Busuttil in Safi. Other less marked, but equally clear concentrations are manifest in the cases of Carabott in Marsaxlokk, Sacco in Kirkop, Bezzina in Għargħur, Vella in Mellieha, Abdilla in Safi, and Manduca in Mdina. Penza, for example, is an overwhelmingly Luqa surname.

Dr Cassar explained that Maltese surnames may easily be divided into three surname groups: Semitic (Arabic and Hebrew), Romance (mainly Italian, Sicilian, Spanish and French), and English (as well as Scottish, Irish and Welsh), with the development of surnames having mirrored Malta's history.

The number of Semitic surnames is only around 50, but despite this low number, most of us have an Arabic surname. “Each one of these Semitic surnames is borne by a significant aggregate of families, whereas many of the more modern Romance and European surnames are less numerous,” he said. 

  Most common surnames in Gozo Top 10 surnames in Malta
1 Vella Borg
2 Attard Camilleri
3 Camilleri Vella
4 Grech Farrugia
5 Portelli Zammit
6 Buttigieg Galea
7 Sultana Micallef
8 Azzopardi Grech
9 Sptieri Attard
10 Zammit Spiteri

Meanings of some surnames

Tonna chubby
Magro lean
Rossi red haired
Bianco, Balzan white haired
Bruno, Moroni, Morana dark-skinned
Losco short-sighted
Ghirsci cross-eyed
Testa big head
Vella, Bellizzi, Belli beautiful
Formosa handsome
Cortis courteous
Preziosi precious
Imbroll, Briguglio meddler
Falzon deceitful
Grixti, Montanaro rough
Mangion, Manduca, Manicaro gluttons

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