Malta and Maltese, noun and adjective, don’t always relate to the island or its people. Nor do Maltese names or nomenclatures. Our Google Alerts for these words regularly comes up with a motley bunch of people, places and things that seem to have some connection to the islands, but what exactly? To sort out fiction and fact, we dig behind the names to see if they can claim some Maltese heritage, genealogy or other links. These are the ones that surface often online and when you chat face to face about Malta with people overseas.
A confectionery product manufactured by Mars, Inc. They are near spherical and have a malt-honeycomb centre coated in milk chocolate. They are most popular in the UK, Australia, Ireland, Canada, and Portugal, so says Wikipedia. The current name is a portmanteau of the words “malt” (one of the main ingredients) and “teasers”. Despite the similarity in the name, Maltesers are not named after the European country of Malta or its people, the Maltese.
We say, however, that anyone Maltese who’s lived abroad, especially in Anglophone countries, no doubt will have had their leg pulled at some point by being referred to as a ‘Malteser’.
Four connections here: the novel, and film of the same name; the bird itself; and a 289-foot clipper sailing yacht.
Novel & Film: think Malta, and a lot of people think of ‘The Maltese Falcon’, a 1930 detective novel by Daschiell Hammett which was immortalised into a film noir classic (1941) of the same name starring Humphrey Bogart. The novel’s Maltese Falcon is a jewel-encrusted figurine of a black bird that has is believed to have been a gift from the island of Malta to the King of Spain a few hundred years before the action takes place. The jewelled bird has a peripheral but ever-present role in the plot, and therefore lends it name to the novel. But no action takes place in Malta. The rare, valuable figurine could easily have been something else from somewhere else had the author wished.
The Bird: Malta does have a regal association with the falcon though. When Holy Roman Emperor Charles V granted the Maltese Islands to the Knights of St John in 1530, after they were driven from Rhodes by the Saracens, he requested two Maltese falcons in annual rent: one for himself; the other for the viceroy of Sicily. Malta was renowned then for best-of-breed peregrine falcons, and was, until the mid 20th century, still a place where they nested, albeit in meagre numbers, on Gozo’s Ta’ Cenc cliffs. But, instead of being prized as hunting birds, they themselves became hunted to near oblivion. The last resident pair was shot in 1980. It’s probably fitting then that the Maltese falcon of Hammett’s novel is a statue. For more on falcons and the art of falconry today in Malta, see here.
The Yacht – this Maltese Falcon is the third largest private sailing yacht in the world (88m), and is berthed at Vittoriosa, Malta. Check it out here.
This is one of our favourite loose Malta connections. Corto Maltese is a comic book hero/anti-hero created by the Italian, Hugo Pratt, in the 1960’s. Pratt produced Corto Maltese stories for over two decades with the last serialised in 1989. The comic book character Corto Maltese was a wandering gentlemen rogue of World War I era in Europe and a sailor on the Seven Seas. His adventures ranged Venice to the then Congo, China and Siberia. The character was ‘born’ in Valletta on July 10, 1887, the son of a British sailor from Cornwall and an Andalusian gypsy. Corto Maltese’s name is thought to derived also from the Venetian Corte Maltese – Courtyard of the Maltese – today Corte Contarini del Bovolo, next to Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo in Venice. His name has been propagated into other comics and even into Tim Burton’s Batman movie. Whatever the fictitious connections with Malta, this rogue character does ring true when you walk some of Valletta’s less done-up waterfront areas and back streets with their music hall relics! We love him…. See the books here. You can also find out more about Corto Maltese at a museum in Venice dedicated to his name. La Casa di Corto Maltese is an exhibition and meeting space for artists fostering the spirit of Corto’s adventurous ‘life’!
Ok, so we’re deviating with ‘Valletta’ but it’s a common enough Maltese name. American model and actress, Amber Evangeline Valletta, born February 9, 1974 in Tuscon, Arizona, has no links to Malta we can trace. She may well wash up here filming something at some point though, given Malta’s attraction as a location. Check her biog out here.
This breed of dog does seem to have some connection of the Islands, or at least the central Mediterranean, even if we can’t pinpoint Malta in its pedigree. It’s a popular miniature breed, and another popular diminutive breed, the Chihuahua, is a favourite in Malta today. The Maltese is an ancient breed has been known by a variety of names throughout the centuries. Originally called the “Canis Melitaeus” in Latin, it has also been known in English as the “ancient dog of Malta,” the “Roman Ladies’ Dog,” the “Maltese Lion Dog,” and the “Bichon” among other names, according to Wikipedia. Malta is ‘Melita’ in Greek and Latin, ‘malat’ in Phoenician, so a strong association between breed and country dating from ancient times seems likely. From Wikipedia, we read: ‘the dogs probably made their way to Europe through the Middle East with the migration of nomadic tribes. Some writers believe these proto-Maltese were used for rodent control (MIO:’which we think would have made it particularly useful here in Malta!’). The oldest record of this breed was found on a Greek amphora found in the Etruscan town of Vulci, in which a Maltese-like dog is portrayed along with the word Μελιταιε (Melitaie). Archaeologists date this ancient Athenian product to the decades around 500 B. C. References to the dog can also be found in Ancient Greek and Roman literature.