In the villages of Gozo, each family has its own
nickname. The Maltese word for nickname is "laqam" (from
"tlaqqam" meaning "to graft"). Indeed a nickname
is grafted to the identity of a person, family or group and serves
as a social label. Surnames are mainly used for official reasons.
The Maltese proverb "Skond ghamilek laqmek"
(your nickname reflects your behavior) underlines the personal and
social implications of the endemic use of nicknames.
In general nicknames are rather innocuous. When they
refer to some weakness they are usually good-humored. A few can
be rude if not crude.
Most nicknames are preceded by the preposition "ta"
(of). One is referred to by first name followed by family nickname.
Thus: Ganni tal-Siddu (Blocker), Peppa ta'l-Pjunu (piano). A person
may be specifically referred to by the definite article plus the
nickname. Thus: il-Hotbi (the hunchback), il-wirdiena (cockroaches).
Nicknames that describe a personality trait are the
most expressive. Typical examples: "tal-pipi" (pipe smoker);
"tal-haddied" (ironmonger); "tal-Pupa" (doll);
"tal-Patann" (chubby); "tal-putrulju" (gasoline);
tal-ggant (giant); No wonder some Maltese become paranoid about
their nicknames. And there is no way one can get rid of one's nickname.
Everybody is stuck with their nickname(s) through thick and thin.
Many nicknames derive from names of animals. "tal-kokka"
"tal-venew" (lapwing); "iz-zin" (bee); "ta'
"tas-Summiena" (quail). .
The most prevalent nicknames are those referring
to occupations; e.g. "tas- Surmast" (school principal),
"tas-Saqqafi" (roofer), "tal-Melh" (salt vendor),
"tar-Rizzi" (hawker of sea-urchins),"tas-Siggijiet"
(man in charge of chairs in churches).
Entire towns and villages are given nicknames. These
nicknames originated when villages and towns were isolated from
each other. This separation led to parochialism verging on hostility,
which strangley enough keeps the traditional "laqam" preserved.