Yes, I heard the same thing about the Aiello name being taken from "Agrellis" or something similar, which means farmer. However both my father and grandfather maintained that the name was "supposed to be pronounced Ai-ee-yo."
When I was researching my grandfather Carlos Santos Aiello on the Internet I came across the web page for Rabbi Barbara Aiello (www.rabbibarbara.com) in Italy. I e-mailed her asking about the ancestry of our common surname, and her reply appears below.
Then, as Rabbi Barbara Aiello points out, our ancestors came from Spain, to Gibraltar, Morocco, then to Sicily, and finally to Calabria. I do know that a common Sicilian spelling of our surname is "Ajello." There is an Ajello winery in Sicily (and if you can get any of their product, consider yourself lucky because it is very good).
I strongly suspect my grandfather, with his Spanish name, was perhaps born Jewish but renounced his religion in the face of the extreme antisemitism that pervaded the early 20th century. My father did not even know his birthdate; he was kidnapped from his mother at age 3, and raised by a half-sister.
Rabbi Barbara Aiello has done a lot of work on our history, and you might want to visit her web site www.rabbibarbara.com
HER REPLY: Dear Walter, So good to hear from you... You already know much about our ancestry.. yes, Aiello was originally pronounced "A ee yo" and comes from the Spanish Ei yalah... which comes for El Al ya... common Sephardic Jewish surnames that evoke the name of God.Yes, we did come to Italy as a result of the persecution and expulsion of the Jews from Spain... actually from what I am able to discover, our "antenati" left Spain as Jews who refused forced conversion, went to Gibraltar, then to Morocco, then to Sicily and finally to Calabria, which, as the story goes, the four brothers journeyed together.An amazing story.
Aiello is one of the most common and one of the oldestof Sicilian or Calabrian Jewish surnames and every Aiello, whether Catholic, secular or Jewish has Jewish roots.. we are all part of "anusim," which is Hebrew for "the forced ones" and means that either we were forced into conversion or forced to practice our Jewish religion in secret.I have written much about this but almost all of it is in Italian... maybe now it is time to put the English translation on my website ... www.rabbibarbara.com
Right now I am in the process of opening a cultural institute for the recovery of the lost roots of Calabrian Jews.We are based here in Nicastro (Lamezia Terme) in the deep south of Italy where we have found remnants of the old synagogue and the mikveh (ritual bath).W are called the IJCCC ... Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria.
My parents spoke Ladino to each other when they wanted to keep information from the kids... so my vocabulary consists mostly of phrases about sex and money!There is a revival of the Ladino language now at Florida International University and the University of Seattle as well, but there are very few Jews today who are fluent in Ladino.I don't know much about the Aiellos in Greece or Turkey except that they were fleeing the Inquisition as well.
So there you have it.. thank you for your inquiry and keep in touch..