I've been trying to find out more about the origins of my rare surname Apap (from Gozo in Malta) and have been reading about its origin through military men with the surname De Apapis.

The first recorded of this name that I know was Milite Lancia De Apapis in Gozo born 1450, during Norman rule.

Since the Normans spoke French, De Apapis must have meant "from/of Apapis". What or where would " Apapis" refer to in this scope?

Was it a place in Malta that I am not aware of? None that I can find and Malta from what I know has a sketchy history due to lost documents. Could this link in with the word "papal" meaning "from the Pope"/" from the father" ?

1 Answer 1


In Mario Cassar, The surnames of the Maltese Islands: an etymological dictionary (2003):


(1) Greek — nickname (?); < Gk. Apapis [De Soldanis], < apapy, a dandelion-like weed; of uncertain application as a surname. The surname Avap (a possible cogante form) prevails in Italy.

(2) Arabic — nickname; tautological form of Ar. ab meaning “father” [Mikiel Anton Vassalli: Lexicon, 1796], in which case the aggregate term term might suggest “grandfather, ancestor” [MG]. The surname Ap also prevails in Italy.

Old local forms: Hapap. (De) Apapis

The surname Apap features neither in the Militia List of 1419/20 nor in the Angara Roster of the 1480’s, but figures prominently in the Gozitan Crociata Records of 1533 [Wettinger:1980]. Probably, up till then it was still confined to Gozo; landowner Aloisio Apap is recorded there in 1502 [De Soldanis]. The Apap family erected (or acquired) the beneficies of Ta Caddiesa (1502), Habel Don Lorenzo (1509), and Ta Ghammar (1576) [Montalto]. (1509), and Ta Ghammar (1576) [Montalto]. The Apaps were one of the prominent landed gentries of Gozo who survived the Moorish onslaught of 1551 [MG]. Don Lorenzo De Apapis (1501-1586), parish priest of St George's in Rabbato, was actually taken into captivity, only to be redeemed soon after the event [Mifsud-Bonnici]; another priest, Antonius Hapap, is recorded in Gozo in 1510 [Wettinger: 2002], In 1712 Filippo Apap was created Marquis of Ġnien is-Sultan by Grand Master De Rohan [Montalto].

  • Several Jews bear the praenomen Aba meaning “forefather, ancestor”; Gk. papas also means “father”, a title of respect used in addressing a parish priest of the Orthodox Church.

EDIT: I've given this some thought overnight, and there are still some things from Cassar's entry that need clarification:

  • What does the fact that there are two etymologies indicate? Are there two surnames Apap, one from Greek and one from Arabic? Or is there only one such surname, and the author doesn't know whether it comes from Greek or from Arabic?
  • What exactly is this plant apapis, apapy? I've checked some Greek dictionaries and encyclopedias and found nothing. Given the connection between Malta and the Knights, it could be a dialectal Cypriot word.
  • How did the "old local form" De Apapis form? Was it a Latinisation of Apap or a holdover from the Greek etymon?
  • What are these surnames Avap and Ap that allegedly prevail in Italy? I haven't found any evidence of them.
  • 1
    much appreciated!
    – Charlie
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 11:55
  • I can't find anything about the plant or the surname Ap either
    – Charlie
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 13:30
  • 1
    Just maybe, the plant could be apium/appio, terms for several kinds of parsley and celery. Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 18:54

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