The original goal has been achieved! One hundred surnames, representing over 75% of the population of the Maltese islands, are now available on kunjom.com.
In a flurry of illustration and research over quite a few recent late nights, I am delighted to announce that the original goal of this project is now complete: Modern renditions of traditional heraldry for the 100 most common Maltese surnames have been faithfully recreated and represented on the website.
It has capped off a surprisingly productive year (after a slow start) which has seen 35 coats of arms added and print sales proceeds of €1,000 given to charity.
Hitting this original milestone has generated not only a moment of joy but also one of reflection. Below, I wanted to share some of the origin story of the project, how it got to this point, and ultimately what's next.
Why is 100 such a significant number?
Reaching a century in most things is usually a cause for celebration, but for this project, it goes deeper than that.
As mentioned in the first ever post on this site when the halfway mark was reached, this project was inspired by an article in the Times of Malta released in February 2014 titled ‘Why most Maltese share the same 100 surnames’. The article states that, at the time:
76 per cent of the population – 307,886 people – share the same 100 surnames.
Inspiration was duly sparked. Whilst a challenge, I could see myself recreating the traditional heraldry of these 100 surnames.
Of tinctures, charges and ordinaries...
Though that article was a catalyst for the project getting started, its germination had started much earlier when I was a child. Much like many folks from my generation, I fondly recall lovingly maintained tberfil representations of my family coats of arms adorning the walls and my grandparents' house.
Illustration and imagery in general have always caught my imagination, and that must ultimately be why I chose design as my career path.
On reading the article, I started researching the project thinking that I'll mostly have some fun making pictures, but the more I got into heraldry, the more I realised how beautifully complex, structured and steeped in history this discipline is. Whilst I was certain that I wanted to adopt a contemporary aesthetic for this project, I did not want to do so at the cost of tradition.
Life gets in the way
As I was discovering this increased complexity, my life was also getting somewhat complex. My career and academic work were developing, I got married, and I changed countries a few times for good measure. Time was hard to come by and the project was shelved.
However, it was never too far from my mind. Over the years I collected related books and materials, read up on heraldry and Maltese genealogy, and now and then I experimented with different styles I thought would work for the project.
Fast-forward to May 2022, over eight years after I initially had the idea and with an eight-week career break looming, the time felt perfect to kick things off again.
An updated vision
My initial goal nearly a decade ago was to create a set of illustrations as prints. If the stars aligned I'd have loved to exhibit the work and maybe even collate them into a book.
The more research I conducted, the more I realised just how little information about Maltese surnames there is out there and I often struggled to get hold of references for my work. With this in mind, my vision for this endeavour started to shift. The 100 milestone would remain but the new goal was to create an accessible online platform for anyone who wants to find out more about Maltese surnames. That's how the current incarnation of kunjom.com was born.
Going digital is all well and good but print remained my first love. I still wanted to maintain an avenue to create printed versions. and the idea of selling prints emerged as a way of helping with the upkeep of the website, with any surplus income being donated to charity.
Amazingly these prints have proven very popular, resulting in €1,000 being donated across three different charities (Foodbank Lifeline Foundation, Fondazzjoni Sebħ, and The Richmond Foundation respectively) this year
What happens next
Honestly, the current urge is to persevere and add more surnames, there are so many that were on the cusp of making it — DeGiorgio, Ebejer, Coleiro and Fava to name but a few — that I feel obliged to include them. However, the right thing to do is to take stock and consolidate.
I want to start by going through all the existing coats of arms and touching up any of those I feel could be better, the desire to get to the mythical 100 mark was so strong that at times I may have rushed the process. The same needs must be said for any accompanying text, which is in dire need of editing.
Once that is complete, I'd like to expand on the website. First, I want to create more touchpoints for anyone interested in contributing. I've already had a host of people reach out with information about specific crests (Frendo, of which very few references exist, is a strong case in point) as well as the origins and etymology of certain surnames.
I'd also like to create a space that explains the symbolism behind the different heraldic elements that make up coats of arms, especially ones that are frequently found in Maltese heraldry, such as lions, chevrons, eagles, comets and of course, the mullet of six points in triplicate.
But most of all, I want to finally create a Maltese version of the site — only then would I feel that the ultimate vision of accessible information for all will be achieved.
And yes, after that who knows? Perhaps a hundred more surnames will be on the horizon.
As always I want to thank everyone who has supported this project at any point, either through sharing or featuring it, by providing information and references, or through the purchasing of prints and postcards. This achievement was reached in no small part thanks to your help.