(Frank) Zappa, Zhapa, Zappas: On Arbëreshë & Arvanites

Frank Zappas’ father was born in Sicily. Frank Zappa would say at various times that he was Sicilian, Italian, Greek, and Arab, through his paternal family. These need not be contradictory statements.

One other piece of his heritage would seem to be Albanian. In fact, this would seem immensely likely, and obvious to anyone familiar with the Arbëreshë and Arvanites, Albanians who left their homeland for Italy and Greece respectively, in the late middle ages into the era of Ottoman occupation.

Frank’s surname was anglicized apparently from Zappas, which is the Greek form of the Albanian/Aromanian surname Zhapa. This serves as an excellent example of the Arvanite surname tradition, generally maintaining as close to the original spelling as possible, and adding -s or -is to the end of the last name to adapt to a more Hellenic convention. These Albanians settled in Athens foremost. The Greeks called them Arvanites, their own take on the name Albanians called themselves.

Some did not find themselves able to come to terms with being Greek for a variety of reasons, and related better to the Latin and Roman phenomenon (especially if they were of Aromanian persuasion). Plenty of these families moved to southern Italy even after moving to Greece. They came to be known as Arbëreshë, one of the names the people now known as Albanians were calling themselves at the time. This would be the case for Mr. Zappa’s family.

In addition to what Zappa’s surname says about his history, research made public by Hunter Provyn of www.phylogeographer.com has provided the results of a few members with related surnames to Zappas, who also trace to Sicily, and not far at all from where Frank Zappa’s father was born. These samples were J-L283, and more specifically, J-Y23094, leading us to believe as we know this haplogroup traces to Illyrians, that these people represent either Arbëreshë migrations to southern Italy, or from the original Illyrian settlements on the Italian Peninsula in existence before Rome, such as those of the Sicels, Iapyges, Messapians, etc, or from Roman associated military based movements. The first example would be the most likely, especially in the case of the person in question.

Frank Zappa would then appear to be of Albanian descent, through the Arbëreshë and within the surname era tracing originally to Vlachs as others with his surname, and the available information would yield that conclusion with about as much certainty as any member of the general public could ask for.

There are a number of other examples of people with the surname Zappas, many of these are documented with connection to Albania, and spelling their surname Zhapa in Albanian. Evangelos Zappas/Vangjel Zhapa of Greek/Albanian/Romanian fame chief among them.


Or not.










Published 7/2/23