In May, a book was published by the Goriška Mohorjeva družba Surnames, their origin and meaning, whose author is a journalist and professor of history Tino Mamic. The book provides a detailed explanation of the origin and meaning of 86 surnames, and together with their versions 99, mostly originally coastal surnames, which can be found throughout the country and also around the world.
In conversation with Tina Mamic read more about the book itself, the history of surnames, pedigrees, and topics of interest to anyone looking to learn more about their ancestors and origins.
How did you actually come up with the idea to write a book about last names?
I have been doing genealogy, that is, researching family trees, professionally for 20 years. In old records of surnames, I often come across something interesting, a detail that shows how a certain surname originated and how they changed. Years ago, at the initiative of the editor of Novi Glas, Jurij Paljek, I started writing articles about individual surnames. From this, the book was born, as interest in the articles was overwhelming, and readers wondered when the book would also be published.
Can you tell us a few more words about surnames (for example, how they came to be, why, when)?
The last names came about because of money, heh, heh. When the Dacians found that taxes could not be recovered if the taxpayer died because it was not known exactly who his descendant was, they invented surnames. Thus, there were no longer five Janezs in the village, separated by the villagers by their local names, but each Janez had his own surname. Thus, the Janezs also began to officially separate from each other. This was first introduced by the Serenissima, the progressive Venetian Republic in 1090. We have already found individual surnames before that, but these were not real surnames, as they were neither hereditary nor official.
How far does the history of Slovenian surnames go?
We are lucky that Slovenes also lived on Venetian territory in western Istria, and at the same time many Slovenes from Trieste were in close economic contacts with Venice. This is how the Slovenes got their first surnames, which are among the oldest in the world, because of the Venetians. Pavle Merku found our oldest surname at the end of the 13th century, Kalec. Historians and linguists still have a lot of work to do here. We are one of the few nations without a large etymological dictionary and without a dictionary of surnames, although our surnames are older than German and British. Most Slovene surnames began to appear outside Trieste and Istria 150 years later; approximately from 1420 onwards, first in the Goriška region. These surnames are also among the oldest in the world, only then do we find the first surnames in Carniola.
Everything written in the book is based on verified historical sources and documents. What do you personally find most interesting in the book that attracts the reader? What would you highlight in particular?
Each surname has its own story. As a man. Everyone has their own history. The oldest information about a person is a surname. Since we do not have written sources, we can only imagine what it was like some 500 years ago, when a man came to the Slovenian Karst from Austria or some other German country and got it by a stream. In German Bach or Bacher, business Pahor. So Pahor is really Potočnik. Since there is not much water in the Karst, we may even find out in the future where exactly this happened. However, genealogical historical research must be done first. Original documents should be looked at, not just transcripts or summaries. The eye of the historian finds much more information in a simple record than an ordinary reader would find. Like an archaeologist who sees the spearhead in a stone that seems ordinary to us. Pedigrees are also researched by people who have no historical education. This needs to be encouraged. It should be noted, however, that a history lover can quickly make a mistake due to his ignorance of the methodology of the historical sciences. Especially before 1800, when we don’t have many transcripts of historical sources, there are really many such errors. Too many amateur genealogists are like those fishermen from some old joke who brag about how awfully big a fish they caught.
Can we do genealogy ourselves?
Of course. I highly recommend this as the discovery is very interesting for everyone. In particular, let me put it to everyone’s heart that they can do something on their own that historians can’t. There is someone in every family who knows a lot about kinship relationships and knows how to tell a lot of interesting family stories. If we go to our old grandmother and ask her questions and record her answers on the phone, we can do an extraordinary historical work. In a simple way, we preserve a valuable oral tradition that would otherwise be lost. Imagine what you would give if someone today brought you such a shot of your late great-grandfather telling you how they survived the Spanish flu! That is invaluable. We can do genealogy on our own. There is a lot of information on the Internet, we have the Slovenian Genealogical Society, and the portal is also interesting www.slovenski-rod.eu. By all means, I advise everyone to read some basics on how to tackle pedigree before starting. We also have three voluminous books with all the hints. Then there will be fewer mistakes.
Quite a few books have been written on the subject of surnames. How is your book different from the others?
No one has so far described surnames extensively and from so many angles. Other surname books write a sentence or paragraph about the origin of the surname, but not the entire chapter.
Every last name I describe is like a story, so it’s also interesting for those who don’t have that last name. In any case, my book would not have existed, or it would have been much more modest if linguists had not done a huge amount of work. If I only mention the great Pavle Merku or Professor Kebr. In their records and books we find a lot of information about the meanings of Slovene surnames.
Such a book requires a tremendous amount of research work. How long has the book been in the making?
There was a lot of work. It is based on my genealogical research, which I have been doing professionally for 20 years. I’ve done a huge amount of pedigrees already and I don’t count them at all anymore. I have 100.000 Slovenes with many surnames listed on my computer. For each surname, I spend at least three days, sometimes more than a week. I started writing the first stories about last names five years ago. There were enough of them gathered for the book three years ago. Then a publisher had to be found. I sent an offer to several publishers, but they showed no interest. At Mladinska knjiga they said that my surnames are not interesting because that is a local topic. There were too many coastal surnames and too few from Ljubljana, probably?
The book Surname is not your first book. How many books have you published?
Officially, this is the fourth. There are two collections of columns and commentaries (Protestantino, Dalmatino), which I still sell myself. There is also a tourist-historical guide Stomaž in Skrilje, published by the municipality of Ajdovščina and supplemented on the Internet. However, I have written more than 15 books that have been published in boutique editions as family chronicles for individual clients.
You are also involved in pedigree research. How can you portray them and how far can they go?
The oldest pedigrees date back to 1500, but these are the exceptions. In almost all cases, however, it is possible to arrive before the year 1700. I draw the pedigrees in the form of a picture, which the client then hangs in the entrance hall or living room. When a pedigree is a gift for for example an abraham or a golden wedding, the pedigree scheme is such that the celebrant is the central person and then they go to one side of his roots (ancestors) and to the other along the branches of the tree (descendants). Another option that comes into consideration is more for family gatherings, which can be enriched so that each family member gets a poster or picture with the oldest ancestor at the top of the family tree scheme and descendants from generation to generation below it. Like a fan. We also print photographs of the original records of the names and surnames of the oldest ancestors or some old photographs of the family house or village on the poster or picture.
By discovering pedigrees and our ancestors, we can probably also learn interesting, unexpected information. Maybe you can share one example with us and what was the response when you passed the information to relatives?
There were tears already, too. I am quite an emotional person and I often had tears in my eyes when people met their relatives for the first time in their lives, whom they did not even know about before. There is also a lot of emotion when I disprove a family myth with research or find a record of inappropriate behavior of an ancestor. But I always say that even in the pedigree of Jesus Christ, they are an illegitimate mother, a murderer, and a prostitute. Pedigree is a look back to better understand the present and to be able to avoid any mistakes in the future.
So if we are more interested in the origin of our surname, your book is the right title for it. But where can we turn if we do not find the surname we are interested in in the book? Where can we find you, where can we contact you to create a pedigree or more information?
All the offer of our family business is on the Internet: www.tinomamic.eu. There is also an order form for all books, otherwise it can also be ordered by e-mail [Email protected] or phone 031 646 870. At both addresses we are also happy to answer people who are interested in making a family tree. Before ordering a pedigree, we prepare an offer for each client with specific information about how many ancestors we will find and what the price will be to make it easier for the client to decide.