Correcting My Italian Surname

From Scalies to Scalise

I was born Christa Ann Scalies, but I am now Christa Ann Scalise as of August 8, 2016. I am thrilled!

Even though the correction from "es" to "se" is subtle, it's incredibly significant. Why? Because now Italians and Americans of Italian descent will know, based on the simple "e" vowel ending in my last name, I have Italian roots. When I move forward with Italian citizenship jure sanguinis, I will be recognized in Italy with the historically correct family name.

For decades people have struggled to spell and pronounce my name. I've gotten hundreds of confused stares (like the squished eyebrow look) and inquiries about the name "Scalies."

People would ask:

  • Are you Greek?

  • Are you German? (as my first name might hint to)

  • What kind of name is "Scalies" anyway?

Drove. Me. Nuts.

Spelling Error Cloud Of Confusion

For most of my life, I've just wanted to belong. I wanted to be part of something larger than myself, to find a place within a family and rich culture. As an American of Italian descent, I knew my family roots were from Southern Italy. But the spelling error in my last name placed a cloud of confusion over my ancestry.

Over the years, I spent hours explaining that our family name was originally spelled Scalise over and over and over. How did it change? Why did it change? Well, it's not an Ellis Island story (most of those assumptions people make about immigrants' last names being spelled wrong at Ellis Island are incorrect, by the way).

A Little History

My paternal grandfather, Carmine Scalise (later known as Charles or Chappie), was born in 1899 in Philadelphia. He was the son of Giuseppe Scalise and Maria Giuseppina Aiello. Our research shows Giuseppe was born and married in Serrastretta.

Based on signatures on a US Naturalization records of a relative, my grandfather was spelling his name correctly as "Scalise" in the early part of last century. However, by the time he applied for his marriage license in July 1929 he was using the spelling "Scalies." Why?

  • Was it simply because he was a bad speller?

  • Was it because he received some sort if business license in Philadelphia with the last name spelled wrong and kept it that was as a matter of convenience?

  • Did he spell it wrong intentionally to be more American?

I have no idea.

My grandfather's marriage license from 1929

Interestingly, my grandfather's Philadelphia birth record lists his last name as Carmine Scalesa and his father as Giuseppi Scalesa - no doubt this was a midwife spelling mistake. To an English speaker, the pronunciation of "Scalise" would sound like "Scalesa" since 'E's' in Italian sound like 'A's.' Per my father, also a Charles, my grandfather didn't know his birth name was Carmine until he was an adult. I believe the story is that my grandfather needed proof of birth or proof of baptism to get a marriage license. That's when he learned his birth name was Carmine. Truth or fiction? I don't know for sure.

Returning To My Roots To Experience My Future

I recently adopted Lia Verrecchia Candelieri's business tagline, "Return to your roots to experience your future," as my mantra.

Like Lia, I believe learning about and honoring the past is essential. In my heart, I know returning to my Italian roots, either by the individual or collective action like: changing my name; studying the Italian language; working with Italians and Italian Americans, and moving for Italian citizenship, will bring me closer to my future - a destiny which involves me, Italy and an enormous amount of happiness.

Words Of Thanks

Changing my name was a decision I made after reflection. I've been living as a Scalies for close to five decades. I have an enormous amount of collateral online with my name Christa A. Scalies. I worried changing my name with several businesses might impact my reputation, personal brand, or ability to generate income. However, after receiving positive encouragement from my Italian friends and colleagues, Marco Circelli and Bianca Ottone, I decided making the change would be advantageous. Even with Marco and Bianca's support, I wasn't going to file for a name change without the blessing of my father, Charles J. Scalies, Jr., the son of Charles (Carmine) Scalies (Scalise), and grandson of Giuseppe and Marie Giuseppina Aiello.

Dad, thank you for giving me your blessing to return to the original family surname. I vow to continue our joint quest to learn more about the Scalise family, and hopefully, I will be able to break bread with some of our living Scalise relatives in Serrastretta. I love you.

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