My name is Priscilla Normandy Greenwood . . . or
is it? I am proud to use Normandy as my middle
name because it honors my father. My paternal
grandparents spelled it Normandia, as did theirs
before them, all the way back to the 1200s, that I
know of. Growing up, I didn't know that many of my
relatives spelled their last name differently than
I did. I have to admit I didn't even know the real
first names of a lot of my cousins until I looked
them up when I started working on my family tree.
Many of my boy cousins I only knew as multiples of
Sonny, Buddy, and Junior. Among the girl cousins
were nicknames like Baby, Sugar, LouLou, and
Italian naming conventions were strict back then,
though there were rebels who named their children
after famous tenors or saints. A firstborn son was
expected to be named after his father's father.
That made for a lot of boy babies named Michael in
my family. Grandpa Normandia, the immigrant of my
line, was baptized Michele
Antonio when he was born in Palma Campania, in the
province of Napoli, Italy, in 1868. He was not the
first son, so he did not have to be named after
his paternal grandfather, Sebastiano Michelangelo,
who was born in 1830.
This old photo looks like it was taken
in the old West, but it was taken in Brooklyn,
around 1905. Grandma Giovannina
Tuorto Normandia is standing next to my father,
Sebastian Sylvester. The man behind him is my
Grandpa Michael Normandia, and the young
boy is their son Antonio.
Grandpa Michael's first son was my father,
Sebastiano Sylvester Angelo Normandia, named
according to custom after Grandpa's father.
My father's first son was named Michael, after
grandpa. I called him Buddy because there were
already first grandsons named Michael. Buddy's
only son is Michael and Michael's first son is my
grandnephew, Michael. And so the Michael dynasty
started over again.
At the time my great-grandfather Sebastiano
Michelangelo was born, Palma was in the District
of Nola, in Terra di Lavoro, Kingdom of the Two
Sicilies. There was no Italy, yet. Italy was all
city-states back then. Italian Unification, also
known as Risorgimento,
didn't happen until 1861. I don't know whether or
not the middle name, Michelangelo, was to honor
the painter of the magnificent ceiling frescoes of
the papal Sistine Chapel in
Rome, as well as the sculptor of the most famous
marble statue in Florence and perhaps all the
world, Michelangelo's David. Since those
works of art were created at the beginning of the
1500s, I'm inclined to think my
great-grandfather's middle name was to honor the
Archangel Michael. I've found legal documents
where the name was divided, Michel Angelo.
One day, after I became my family's genealogist, I
looked at some old birth and baptism certificates.
My last name was spelled Normandia. I checked out
my father's certificates, my siblings papers, and
mine. They are all spelled Normandia. As I got
deeper into genealogy, I found my father's surname
spelled in a variety of different ways on legal
documents. He was Normandia, Normandie, Normandi
or Normandy. It seems that spelling
conventions were not totally in vogue yet.
I understood why the men named Michele were called
Michael when they came to America, but why did
Grandpa change the spelling of Normandia?
Well, he didn't! Our family legend said that when
my grandfather, Michele (Michael) Antonio
Normandia, came to America, he was shocked to see
signs in store windows in Manhattan that said,
"Italians need not apply."
The huge emigration of Italians to America at the
end of the 1800s and beginning of the 1900s
brought America's newest immigrants to our shores.
Italians replaced the Irish, who were previously
the newest large group of immigrants to America.
The Irish were desperate to relocate after their
homeland's potato famine. It was called the Great
Famine, or the Great Hunger, a time of mass
starvation and emigration that lasted from 1845 to
1852. About a million people died and a
million more emigrated from Ireland. America was
not their only destination. Many of the desperate
poor chose to sail to England, Scotland, South
Wales, Australia, and Canada.
In school, we were taught that the Irish Famine
was the result of the dietary dependence of the
poor tenant farmers on their sole subsistence
food, the potato, and primarily on one variety of
potato. I recently read that the tenant farmers
ate 40 to 60 potatoes a day to keep up their
strength, and their only beverage was water. When
the potato blight decimated that crop, the poor
people starved. I'm not sure why we were not
taught the other significant reasons for the Great
Famine involving money and greed and
discrimination. I could easily get distracted by
this subject, but I'll stop here. If you
enjoy reading history, there is much written about
the many causes of the Irish emigration.
The Italian emigration was not just to the United
States either. I have received emails from
Normandia people of Italian ancestry in Australia
and Brazil. As they research their family trees,
they ask if their Normandia ancestors could be
related to mine. I honestly do not know. I hope
they were not the victims of discrimination as
mine were when they arrived as part of the "New
Immigration" in the land where "all men are
The New Immigration consisted of Italians, Jews,
and Slavs. Between 1900 and 1915, three million
Italians immigrants entered the United States.
They were the largest nationality of the "new
immigrants" and took their dishonored place as the
latest victims of discrimination in America. I'm
ashamed to admit we still do that in America. It
doesn't seem to matter where the latest immigrants
come from, the last ones to arrive in large
numbers become the low men and women on the totem
pole in this melting pot we call America. Their
children learn English in the schools and their
grandchildren consider themselves 100% American,
as I do. In a generation or so, their names pop up
in the entertainment world, sports, and politics.
Sometimes their surnames even appear on the
It must have been hard for the first of the
Normandia family to reach the United States. In
Italy, the Normandia family included
architects and lawyers, musicians and politicians.
They were looked up to as pillars of the community
and most came over in ships with manifests that
were stamped "First Class." It must have been an
incomprehensible shock to see those signs in store
windows that warned "Italians need not apply."
Grandpa Normandia was a painter who specialized in
painting cathedrals in Italy. He realized he would
have to start his own business in Brooklyn and his
Italian name would hinder, rather than help. He
decided to call his business Normandy & Sons,
Painting and Decorating. He did it legally. People
thought it was French, as in Normandy, France, and
his business took off.
Here's the most important fact. Grandpa never
changed his own surname name from Normandia to
Normandy and all his children were baptized as
Normandia. His business name of Normandy was
the first and only time the "real" spelling of
Normandia was legally changed and it was only for
the business, not the family.
The deeper I got into researching my family tree,
the more I learned that there are numerous
branches of my family who never changed their
surname and find it strange that we did. They are
Normandia. I wish I were. My father was the son in
Normandy & Sons, and started writing Normandy
as his last name. He, too, never made it
legal. By rights, I should be Priscilla
Normandia Greenwood. If I weren't 80, I would
change it legally. At this age, it would take the
rest of my life to change all the legal documents
back to Normandia and I'm not sure I could count
on Social Security and Medicare to get it right
before I get my wings.
Sometimes when I look back, I notice that not all
events that were major influences in the adult I
would become had their roots in my personal
childhood experiences. Even a family legend, true
or not, can be the trigger for a personality trait
or belief system in later years. I am thankful I
learned a big lesson early on from the often-told
story of my
I am in awe of immigrants from all over the
world who have the courage to leave everything
they know to seek refuge in our country and start
all over. That family legend from my childhood
taught me about the dangers
of discrimination of any
kind. I will never understand how people can be so
heartless and discriminate against anyone who is
different from them. I believe the world will be a
better place when we build bridges instead of
I'm getting off my soapbox now that may have been
triggered by this week's 24/7 coverage of the
unthinkable massacre in Orlando, Florida. It was
caused by a shooter who was born in Queens, New
York, a safe and friendly place when I attended
Grover Cleveland High School there.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips.