The creation of a surname is a long-term process that has been developing since the beginnings of public notary service in Dalmatian cities. Initially, when a notarial document would be drawn up, the persons mentioned would be recorded only by their respective names and occasionally patronymics, i.e. the names of their respective fathers. This is evidenced by the documents in which, for example, Pero Matov (Pero, son of Mato) made a request to Ivo Nikov (Ivo, son of Niko). However, as a result of a large number of people sharing the same name and patronymic, it was difficult to discern the exact identity of the Pero Matov mentioned in a document, thus the first surnames began to be adopted. Surnames were primarily used by the nobility due to the fact that the nobles, in addition to the names of their respective fathers, wished to highlight their belonging to distinguished bloodlines.
The first surnames were often patronymics which had remained in use across several generations. Ivo Nikolin thus became Ivo Nikolić, while his children continued to use the old patronymic (e.g. Nikola Ivov Nikolić). The manner in which names were recorded by the Dubrovnik notary office differed from that of such offices in other parts of Croatia. Namely, the patronymic was placed between the first name and the surname by the Dubrovnik notaries, while in other parts of Croatia it was more common for the patronymic to be placed after the last name. In addition to patronymics, surnames were derived from nicknames, professions or settlements.
Certain scientists of the 19th and 20th centuries attempted to use surnames as a basis for identifying nationalities. For a long time, it was considered that people bearing `folk‘, i.e. Slavic names belonged to the Slavic, i.e. Croatian part of the population, while those bearing Christian names belonged to the Romanic part of the population. Although animosity between the two groups existed, it was documented mostly in written sources providing insight into the earlier historical periods through the lens of their own respective prejudices. The process of the so-called `Croatisation’ of Dalmatian cities in the medieval period was mostly peaceful since the inhabitants of the cities knew the language of the Slavic settlers; moreover, the cities needed a wealthy population which would encourage the development of trade. It was only when the cities became overpopulated that the animosity between the original residents and the newcomers began. The conflicts between the two sides were typically presented as a struggle between the Slavic settlers and the Roman citizens, even though the writers documenting this state of affairs were often themselves of Slavic origin.
An additional problem concerning the history of the surnames in this region was created by the public notary books, which were initially written in Latin and later in Italian. In the 13th and 14th centuries, public notaries were predominantly Italians or priests, so they would write down names based on how they heard them, and if they were familiar with a person’s name, they would write down the name in its Latinised form. Although Latinisation or Italianisation is noticeable in the later centuries, it was applied with no ulterior motives due to the fact that the Croatian language had not yet been standardized.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the Italian language became the lingua franca in commerce. Due to the fact that trade was one of the main sources of income for a large number of residents of Dubrovnik, and later also of Cavtat and other small ports in the wider Dubrovnik region, merchants and sailors were required to possess a considerable level of proficiency in Italian. The importance of the Italian language led certain Dubrovnik families to Italianise their surname by the end of the 17th century; following their example, the Cavtat residents did the same. However, they used Italian only in business communication while continuing to use their mother tongue at home. Major changes occurred in the 19th century, when compulsory primary education was introduced. At that time, the Italian language became an official language in Dalmatia and would retain its status even after the Croatian language was standardized.
Due to historical and archaeological research conducted in Italy at the time, the Italian language had gained considerable importance as a language of culture. The popularisation of the Italian language also influenced citizens who wanted to distinguish themselves in social circles. The aforementioned prestige associated with Italian led certain families from Cavtat to Italianise their surnames. Before then, the Italianisation was sporadic and mostly happened as a result of a mistake on the behalf of the public notary or the priest. Nevertheless, within the domain of trade and seafaring, Italianised surnames were preferable to foreigners because they viewed them as tamer and nobler-sounding in comparison to the backward Croatian ones. In Cavtat, the complete Italianization of surnames did not occur, but there are numerous examples of the adoption of Italian graphemic features, such as the transition of the grapheme K to the grapheme C – for example, from Kazilar to Casilari – as well as double letters – for example, in the surname Moretti.
Despite the general popularity of the autonomist policy (which propagated the Italian language) in Konavle, Cavtat was an isolated example of Italianisation in the region; thus, it can be concluded that the process in question was not politically motivated. It was most likely just a matter of fashion and the desire to fit into the trade and seafaring circles. A similar situation was present among the immigrants in the USA, who were rather quick to accept the Anglicised variations of not only their names, but also their surnames.
Enforced Italianisation in Konavle was only present during the Second World War, but it did not leave a lasting mark on the region’s cultural landscape. The Italianisation in the 19th-century Cavtat was a willful decision by the families who changed their surnames. Due to the establishment of the administration and the population census, the old surnames became firmly established and the only way to change one’s surname was via an administrative procedure at one’s own request. Thus, part of the Cavtat residents `ennobled’ their surnames with Italian suffixes in order to create more favourable trading conditions for themselves. However, there were also those who Croatised their original Italian surnames. The most famous Cavtat resident who Croatised his surname is certainly Vlaho Bukovac, whose original name before Slavicisation was Biaggio Faggioni, indicating his Italian heritage. Unlike the Italianisation of surnames, Croatisation sent a clear political message of national identity and the desire to fight with the aim of protecting one’s national ideals.