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What's In A Name?

by William J. Girimonti III

When I first started in genealogical research I quickly came across something I did not expect: variations in the spelling of our family's name. The most common variation that I found was Girimonte. I first learned of this when looking through the New York City Telephone Directory. I found equal numbers of Girimonti's and Girimonte's which confused me at the time. Having a fair working knowledge of the Italian language, I translated my name to it's English meaning which is "Around the Mountains." The other name means essentially the same thing, but the last word is "Mountain" instead of "Mountains" In Italian, the 'E' at the end denotes a singular noun, and the 'I', it's plural. As time progressed, I met with some of the Girimonte's. I learned how all the Girimonte's and Girimonti's in the New York Area were related. It turns out that my great-great-grandfather, Beniamino Girimonti, had five children. All of his children, except one, spelled their name as I do. The child who spelled his name differently, was William Girimonte. Almost all of the Girimonte's in New York are descended from him. This raised another question in my mind, "Why did he change it?" To this very day, I still do not know the reason.

My trips to Italy
My research eventually pointed toward Italy. I checked some records for Italy and found both spellings were common there also. They where equal in number and all located in one area about 50 square kilometers wide. I was beginning to think that they were actually two separate and distinct families until I took the trip myself to a small town named Zinga. This is where my great-grandfather, Francesco Girimonti, was born in 1885. While I was there, I only found one Girimonti that was still alive--her name is Maria Girimonti. I asked her about the two spellings and was shocked at her reply. According to Maria, a long time ago, there was a big dispute within the family. It grew until one part of the family wanted no association with the other part, and changed the way they spelled their name by changing the last letter. In Italy this has the effect of severing all ties between the people involved and effectively "creates" another family altogether. Only one question remains. . .which one was the original? Maria was not able to answer that. All she could do was guess that her's was the correct spelling. Another story I have been told which bears a striking resemblance to the above account, was told to me by Charles Girimont from Hillsboro, Ohio. He spoke with his older sister asked about some of the stories their father would tell them when they were younger. She reminded him of a story in which their father, Michael Dominic Girimonti, was only about eight years old. In this particular story, Michael recalled an argument between his father, and his father's brothers which was centered on a land dispute. The tensions and tempers rose and split the family. They all went their own seperate ways and settled in other towns. These may very well be two accounts of the same story.

On a subsequent trip to Italy, I found references to the surname Ierimonte which was used interchangeably with Girimonte for some people within their vital records. It appears that Ierimonte may have been an older version of our name and quite possibly the original spelling. Further investigation shows that Ierimonte pre-dates Girimonte back to the 1600's. So, even in Italy, we see the periodic mutation of our surname.

As a researcher, it is my responsibility to be as objective as possible, so I am not making any assumptions as to the original spelling until conclusive evidence is found to determine the true origins. As I dig deeper I am sure to come across the answer in due course.

My television debut
In December of 1992, I was stationed at Griffiss AFB in Rome, New York. With the holiday season looming around the corner, and with a desire to do good, myself and six other military people organized a charity luncheon that was to feed 70 families. All was progressing on schedule, but then the Channel 2 News Team from Utica, New York arrived and did a feature on us. I was interviewed and it was aired on the evening news. Ten minutes after it had aired, I received a telephone call from a woman named Ann Girmonde. She explained that she saw me on the evening news and was surprised at how similar our names are. I met with her son, Michael and learned some very important information. His great-grand father, Joseph Girimonti, came to the United States from Scandale, Italy. Upon his entrance to the USA, immigration officials, unfamiliar with Italian names, misspelled his name when writing it down. The misspelled name stuck with him and all his descendants carry it as their own.

Spelling variations
After this discovery, I decided to do a worldwide check on any names that bore any resemblance to my own. I did this through a number of sources, and when I was done, I was amazed at what I found. There were many more variations including: Ierimonti, Germonde, Germanti, Geremonte, Geremonti, Gerimonti, Giramonti, Giriminde, Girmonde, Girimont, and Girimonto. Of these spelling variations, Girimont was the one found most often within the United States. I contacted Victor Girimont from Cleveland, Ohio and learned that his name, too, was originally Girimonti, but was changed upon entrance to the United States or shortly thereafter. It is believed that the reason was because it was easier finding a job with a French-sounding name than an Italian one. This can be related to the widespread discrimination against the Italians and other immigrants during this time period.

As for the other names, Germanti and Geremonti were found in the 1920 New York State Census, there were a fair number Giramonti's in Italy, a Giriminde was found in Hungary, and Gaetano Girimonto (1884-1963), who lived in Pennsylvania, was found in Social Security records (Last letter probably a typographical error... more likely an 'I' at the end considering it's location on a typewriter). I have already looked into the remainder of these names, and my findings are available in our Family Tree.

As you know, many things in our world evolve with time...surprisingly enough, our family's name is not exempt from evolution. What an interesting discovery this was!

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