Semeraro/Semerano/Zamarano(surname of my paternal grandmother).
(updated15 November 2009)
On the Semeraroside, I have gone back as far as mygreat-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather NunzioOronzo Semeraro, born about1670. His son Francesco Antonio fathered Giacomo Oronzo Vincenzo, who in turnfathered Francesco Antonio Rocco, who then fathered Nunzio,who in turn fathered Cosimo Damiano,the first in my Semeraro line to abandon farming andodd jobs in favor of life as a stonemason. Cosimo and his wife, Giuditta Ardente, who was an orphan, were parents to 21 children inall, including my great-grandfather Nunzio Semeraro, the father of my grandmother ElisabettaMaria Semeraro.
The Semerarofamily appears to have originated, or at least heavily settled, in and aroundthe Valle d’Itria, in the Provinces of Brindisi and Bari, Region of Puglia, Italy.1 Personsbearing that surname lived in Cisternino at least asearly as 1559.2 The Semeraro surname ismore common than the Zizzi surname.3 Forexample, from 1836 through 1844, the number of births of legitimate babiesfathered by Semeraro husbands exceeded the number ofbirths of legitimate babies fathered by Zizzihusbands by an average of 3:1, with the number of Zizzibirths never breaking single digits in any one year.4Semeraro family members have also more recently emigratedto other regions of Italy and other parts of the world.5
The meaning of the Semeraro surname remains a mystery, although some havesuggested that it could be read to mean "sowerof seeds" or "farmer", from "seme"for "seed" and the suffix "aro"meaning "one who is associated with".6 One source states that it is of Puglian origin and derives from a local dialect nicknameconnected with the job of leading donkeys.7
The surname of FrancescoAntonio Rocco on his baptism record is shown as "Semeraro".On the baptism records of his father and his father’s siblings, the surname isshown as "Semerano", while the baptismrecords of his grandfather’s siblings show their surname and the surname oftheir own father, Nunzio Oronzo,written as “Zamarano” (Francesco Antonio Rocco’s grandfather’srecord was not located). In Cisternino, the name isonly ever spelled as "Semeraro", so therange of spellings in Ostuni (where all of theforegoing were born) is intriguing.
These wide variances inspelling raise the question of whether Nunzio Oronzo Zamarano indeed belongedto a Semeraro family or altered the spelling of his surname.He might have done so to integrate more easily into Ostunilife. Professor Enza Aurisicchiobelieves that the name might have been of Arabic origin, given the first letterwas “z”, which she indicated is not common for Italian names but iscommon for Italianized Arab names.8It isalso possible that the name was of Spanish origin, deriving from “Zamorano”, which originated in the city of Zamora,in northwestern Spain. Even today on a Googlesearch, one finds persons with the surname “Zamarano”,most of which have Spanish given names.
As noted above, personsbearing the Semeraro surname were long settled in Cisternino. Although documents from the 1800s indicate thatmy own Semeraro ancestors were in the lower economicstrata (occupations included farmer and water bearer), the family was reportedto be among the growing middle class at the beginning of the 1700s9 andindeed is referred to as “aristocratic” by one author.10 The Semeraro familyof Cisternino included doctors, notaries, academicsand military commanders.11 Apotential source of this reversal of fortune were the various violent changesin government in southern Italy, beginning with the brief revolution in Naplesin 1799 that overthrew the Bourbon monarchy and established a republicthroughout the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (of whichPuglia was then a part). A NicolaAntonio Semeraro of Cisterninowas, along with many others, martyred in the chaos that surrounded theinstallation of this democratic government.12 Soon after its creation, the republicwas replaced by a Napoleonic kingdom, followed briefly by a restored Bourbonruler.
2. S. Ostuniet al, Cisternino tra Storia e Leggenda, p. 34.
4. Based on originaldocuments reviewed and statistics compiled by the author:
1836 Zizzi-2; Semeraro-9
1837 Zizzi-8; Semeraro-26
1838 Zizzi-5; Semeraro-22
1839 Zizzi-8; Semeraro-13
1940 Zizzi-5; Semeraro-27
1841 Zizzi-7; Semeraro-17
1842 Zizzi-2; Semeraro-10
1843 Zizzi-8; Semeraro-13
1844 Zizzi-5; Semeraro-14
This assumes, of course,that both Zizzi and Semeraromen were equally likely to marry and equally prone to fathering children out ofwedlock!
5. Based on the author'sexamination of telephone directories in various countries.
7. EnzaAurisiccio, interview in Ostuni,Province of Brinidisi, on 14 November2009.
9. Enzo Filomena,L’Armorista di Cisternino,p. 114.
10. MarialuisaSemeraro-Herrmann et al, Cisternino tra Storia e Leggenda, p. 82, citing Pacichelli, Regno di Napoli in prospettiva, vol II, Napoli 1703.
11. Enzo Filomena,L’Armorista di Cisternino,p. 114-15.
12. Enzo Filomena,L’Armorista di Cisternino,p. 115-16.