Chapter 36 Saccu

Shakespeare inquired about a name as in “What’s in a name . . .?”

About a decade ago, an eminent Italian scholar unlocked the mystery behind my last name. Sacco literally means “sack” or “bag” but the scholar shook her head with a wry smile. “My friend,” she admonished. You have a classic entrepreneur’s name. A Sacco was someone who sold water in skins or bags in the early Middle Ages. In essence, your ancestors sold water to people.” From that moment on, I was proud of the origins of my last name.

A couple of years later, I discovered more about my family name from the Dizonario dei cognomi italiani. Sacco is the Italianization of the Greek Sakkos. It was only in the 12th or 13th Century that the Greek morphed into the Italian counterpart. Historically, some Greek/Byzantine soldier settled in Calabria as a reward for helping to expel the Arabs or the Normans, I haven’t found out which. In Calabrese, Sacco is Saccu, thus the title of this chapter.

As a kid, my military school friends addressed you by your last name or a shortened version. A Murphy became Murph, a Fitzgerald became Fitz so a Sacco became Sac or Sack. When I first began teaching at a rural high school in north central Illinois, which in France would be called La France Profonde (Hillbilly Land), I called my students by their last names: Gott, Feik, Luck, Watson, etc. Within a week of my teaching debut, the superintendent called me in and chastised me for this practice.

“You can’t call kids here by their last names. It hurts their feelings.”

“Hurts their feelings” was my silent response. “Are they illegitimate or what’s the story?” Julius Caesar never said: “Stop calling me Caesar, my name is Julius!” Well, I obeyed the superintendent’s wishes but still got fired at the end of the school year. (That’s a story for another blog entry).

Today, when my students suffer through a semester of Italian or French with me, they call me Sacco. Dr. Sacco is too formal and Steve is too informal. It’s just Sacco. I love it because it’s a sign of respect but also of affection.

In ancient Rome, Mark Antony called Julius Caesar “Caesar” as in “Hail Caesar!”

Ave Saccu!


About growingupcalabrese

Professor of French and Italian at San Diego State University
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