I have an unusual last name.
Actually it was Scarangella. It was changed by the bureaucrats at Ellis Island who mistook the cursive “a” for an “o”. So that became our name. In Italy our name is not found with an “o” at the end.
And our name is found in only one place in Italy.
Toritto is today a suburb of Bari, down by the heel of the Italian boot, perhaps where one might wear a stirrup if riding horses was your thing. Bari is a pleasant Southern Italian city right on the Adriatic with the well deserved reputation of speaking the worst Italian in Italy. It has a long history going back to pre-Roman times. It fell under Roman control in the third century B. C.
After the fall of Rome it was ruled by Byzantines, Moors, Normans, French, Spanish etc. as part of Napoleon’s empire, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the Kingdom of Naples. A long varied history indeed.
I have been able to trace our family history back centuries. Bari was not destroyed during World War II and the town keeps excellent records. The family name is carried by over 120 families in Toritto today. A street, via Scarangella, can be found in the old city center.
The name is found virtually no where else in Italy and the persons living elsewhere can usually trace their lineage back to Toritto / Bari.
I have been curious as to where this very Italian name originated.
Initially I thought the name involved an angel (angella) and perhaps a variation of the word “sacred” – sacra in Italian. Southern Italians do have a habit of dropping the first vowel. This however seemed much too simple. And knowing some of the family I doubt that our surname came from something akin to “holy angel”.
So I went a little deeper. And was astonished,
Seems our last name is a “pet female variant” of Scaringi – old Norse, rooted in the Scandinavian name Ansigar – which translates to “God Spear”!
The origin of our name is Scandinavian?! Who us??
Apparently Ansigar is the old Scandinavian form of Ansgar – resulting in myriad forms of the first name Oscar and apparently the origin of our last name as well. Seems”Scaringi” or “god spear” resulted in some little girl or comely young woman being call “scaringella”, a nickname for a little girl or comely female Scaringi. Some families still carry the original spelling while others, like ours, changed the “i” to an “a” or more rarely, an “e”.
Now how did a name of Norse origin wind up in Southern Italy?
Well in 1067, one year after the Norman conquest of England, the Normans landed in Bari and took it from the Byzantines after a three year siege.
And the Normans, according to Wikipedia, “were descended from Viking conquerors of the territory and the native Merovingian culture formed from Germanic Franks and Romanised Gauls. Their identity emerged initially in the first half of the 10th century, and gradually evolved over succeeding centuries.”
The family name has existed in Bari for centuries – and no where else.
I’m wondering if we had a Norman rascal in the family tree!!