The Origin of the Surname Cofrancesco
by Pacifico Cofrancesco
The documents referred to in this paper are the results of research conducted by Pacifico Cofrancesco and Anna Di Leone between March 2007 and January 2008. Special thanks to Ivo for discussions and hints about this topic and to John for his translation.
Translated into English by John A. Cofrancesco
Recent research carried out at the church archives of the Parish of St. Lorenzo, S. Lorenzello (Benevento) and The State Archives of Benevento clearly establish the origin of the surname "Cofrancesco".
The First Documents
The starting point is the registration of the death of Dianora Nicolai Francisci, wife of Giulio Sagnella, on 8 October 1597 at San Lorenzello. This is the first known document where the name "Nicola Francesco" is clearly written, which is to show how the surname "Cofrancesco" was established. In baptism records of 29 October 1607 there is the same surname: it is said that the little Petronilla was born to "Jacobo Nicolai Francisci" and "Laura". In records immediately following on the same page of the book of the baptized, the same Giacomo ("Jacobus"), together with his wife Laura Cappella, are reported as godparents of Porzia, born to "Fra.co de Matteis" and "Adona Nicolai Francisci". Adorna has the same surname "Nicolai Francisci" and most likely is the sister of Giacomo.
The Latin surname, "Nicolai Francisci" can be translated either as "of Nicola Francesco", or as "of Nicola of Francesco". In the first case it would mean "son of Nicola Francesco"; in the second, "son of Nicola, son of Francesco". This type of reasoning applies only to the literal meaning of "Nicolai Francisci", but certainly this "Nicolai Francisci" represents the true surname of Dianora, Giacomo, and Adorna; Dianora, Giacomo and Adorna were part of the family "Nicola Francesco".
A few years later the archpriest of San Lorenzello, Don Francesco Tacinella - particularly not verbose in his records - identifies the same Giacomo only as "Fran.ci" or in the form "de Fran.co". In both cases "Nicolai" ("di Nicola") is omitted. In the same period and even earlier, a similar thing happens in other records of baptisms, deaths and marriages, to the name "Nicola". This is often the first name abbreviated as "Cola" and so we sometimes finds "Cola Francisco" or, more frequently, "de Cola Francisco". The use of this form of name is documented for the first time in a deed of 23 October 1587, in which Vito de Cola Francisco sells land, located at Civitella near the church of St. Bartolomeo on the road from Cerreto, to Cusano Mutri.
Colafrancesco and Cofrancesco
In recordings of baptisms and deaths in the first half of 1600 the use of the form "de Cola Fran.co" ("de Cola Francisco") or "Colafran.co" ("Colafrancisco"), together with "Fran.ci" ("Francisci") and "de Fran.co" ("de Francisco") is found. The same person was identified differently. These different forms of the same surname were even further abbreviated in the form "Cofran.co" ("Cofrancisco"), and "Cofrancesco" starting in 1700.
In 1645 Giovanni Donato Cofrancesco, married Caterina Pacelli in San Salvatore. The marriage registration calls him "Donatus Colafran.us" ("Donatus Colafranciscus"). It should be noted however, that on the margin of the same registration is listed "Donato Cofran.co" ("Donato Cofrancisco "). This clearly suggests that people of the two surnames were one and the same. "Colafranciscus" was the "ancient" form, meaning close to the original name, but it was entirely equivalent to the abbreviated "modern" form "Cofrancisco" or "Cofrancesco". In the 1645 marriage record of Giovanni Donato and Caterina, the surname reported by the notary is "Cofran.co", ie "Cofrancisco".
From the second half of 1600s, in San Lorenzello, Cerreto, Massa and the surrounding areas, the use of "Colafrancisco" was lost in favour of "Cofrancisco", which in its Italian version is "Cofrancesco". It remained that way in later centuries and today is the only form of this last name used; at least in those areas.
It must be said that in other places, for example, Arce and Vico del Gargano, there are still some "Colafrancesco" families. In Arce the names "Colafrancesco" and "Cofrancesco" are even both present nowadays, although it seems that the Cofrancesco of Arce are descendants of a Bourbon soldier from Cerreto Sannita, who moved there in the second half of the 1800s.
The families of Colafrancesco of Arce and Gargano could in some way be related to Cofrancesco/Colafrancesco of San Lorenzello, but there is currently no evidence of this bond. The only coincidence that might suggest this link is the documented existence a Giovanni Donato Colafrancesco of Vico del Gargano, roughly contemporary of another Giovanni Donato Colafrancesco, living in San Lorenzello between the second half of 1500s and early 1600s. He was the grandfather of Giovanni Donato, as mentioned above, and died in San Lorenzello in 1606.
The Double Surname
The surname "Cofrancesco" therefore comes from the two names, "Nicola" and "Francesco". There are many surnames that originated in the same way, such as "Colaianni", which comes from "Nicola Giovanni; "Colarenzi" from "Nicola Renzo "; "Colantonio" from "Nicola Antonio"; and "Colacicco" from "Nicola Francesco." And I quote only a few surnames that include "Nicola" as the first name. The doubling of the surname to identify a person was perhaps due to the fact that there were probably many people who were called Nicola and to identify someone, it was not enough to say that he was "the son of Nicola", in Latin "Nicolai". It was necessary to add an additional identifyer, ie: "Nicolai Francisci"; "Nicolai Joannis"; "Nicolai Renzi"; "Nicolai Antonii". Respectively, "son of Nicola of Francesco", "son of Nicola of Giovanni", "son of Nicola of Renzo", and "son of Nicola of Antonio". In doing so, the kinship certainly had to be clearer.
Origin and Migration
The great variability in the writing of the surname Cofrancesco in the period between the 1500s and 1600s seems to confirm the fact that this surname, and perhaps even the Cofrancesco family as such, may have emerged during that period.
With regard to the place of origin, research carried out in the parish church of San Martino in Cerreto Sannita showed that there are no documents concerning Cofrancesco families resident in the city before the first half of the 1700s. This is also confirmed by the Catasto Onciario, dating back to the year 1741- 42. The first Cofrancesco in Cerreto was Lorenzo, husband of Orsola Santullo, who moved there from San Lorenzello with his family around 1745. Even in the parish of Faicchio, no Cofrancesco families have been found in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The first Cofrancesco family, also from San Lorenzello, is found in a house in Massa Inferiore (the current Massa di Faicchio) in the Catasto Onciario, written around 1741-42.
The situation in San Lorenzello is very different. The "State of Souls" Census of the inhabitants of this town, completed in 1714 by the archpriest Don Domenico Perugino, recorded 9 homes with a Cofrancesco head and 11 homes with a wife who was born a Cofrancesco, for a total of 20 homes out of about 264 families. Nearly one home in 10 had a husband or wife who was a Cofrancesco. The Catasto Onciario of San Lorenzello, compiled between 1741 and 1754, lists ten families with male Cofrancesco heads. The presence of Cofrancesco was already important and significant in San Lorenzello since the second half of the 1500s, but is almost completely absent, as has been said, in surrounding towns up to the middle of the 1700s.
You can then say with a certain degree of confidence that the Cofrancesco originated in San Lorenzello and nowhere else, and that from here they moved for economic reasons first to the neighboring towns of Cerreto, Massa, San Salvatore, Castelvenere, and Gioia and then with the emigration of the 1800s and early 1900s, to the United States of America and Australia. They also migrated to Northern Italy, particularly Lombardia, in the provinces of Milan and Pavia.
Almost all these migrations are easily traceable and attributable to the original Cofrancescos of San Lorenzello. Unfortunately, it is not presently possible to get information from the first half of the sixteenth century. Certainly there was a family that began to identify as "Nicolai Francisci", "Colafrancesco", Cofrancesco", but who previously could also have had another identification. There are some important clues of such a possibility, but it is premature to discuss this now, while archival research is still under way.
(C) 2008 - P. Cofrancesco