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Indian family names are based on a variety of systems and naming conventions, which vary from region to region. Names are also influenced by religion and caste and may come from epics. India's population speaks a wide variety of languages and nearly every major religion in the world has a following in India. This variety makes for subtle, often confusing, differences in names and naming styles. For example, the concept of a family name does not exist widely in Tamil Nadu.
For some Indians, their birth name is different from their official name; the birth name starts with a letter auspicious on the basis of the person's horoscope (based on the nakshatra or lunar mansion corresponding to the person's birth).
Many children are given three names, sometimes as a part of religious teaching.
- 1 Pronunciation
- 2 North Indian names
- 3 East Indian names
- 4 Western Indian names
- 5 South Indian names
- 6 Indexing
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Indian names, written in roman letters use the letters for the vowels to denote different sounds than is conventional in American or British English.
The Sanskrit/devanagari vowels अ (u̱nder), आ (ah), इ (in), ई (eat), उ (put), ऊ (boot), ए (ate), ऐ (add), ओ (oh - not as a diphthong), औ (ogre), are mapped to 'a', 'a', 'i', 'ee', 'u', 'oo', 'e', 'e', 'o', 'o', in that order, in most transcriptions of Indian names into English.
Thus ‘Ekamresh’ is pronounced ‘AkaamrAsh’ where the capitalized A’s represent the long ‘a’ (as in the name of the letter) and the 'aa' has the vowel sound in 'ah'. The short 'a' and short 'o' of American English are absent in Indian languages and their use can often result in mispronunciation of Indian names.
Furthermore, the letters used in English for the retroflex consonants (t and d) are also used to sound dentals (as in 'math' and 'the'), especially when they occur in the beginning of a word. As an example, the India name 'Dev' would not have its first consonant pronounced as in the American name 'Dave'. Similarly the name 'Tarun' would not have its first consonant sounded as in 'Tom'.
The letter 'h' is used to aspirate certain consonants. So, in the names 'Khare', 'Ghanshyam', 'Kaccha', 'Jhumki', 'Vitthal', 'Ranchodh', 'Thimmayya', 'Uddhav', 'Phaneesh', and 'Bhanu', the sounds 'ka', 'ga', 'cha', 'ja', 'ta' (retroflex), 'da' (retroflex), 'ta' (dental), 'da' (dental), 'pa', and 'ba' are sounded with an strong outward breath.
North Indian names
Kashmiri names often have the following format: given name, middle name (optional), family name. (For example: Jawahar Lal Nehru)
Nicknames often replace family names. Hence, some family names like Razdan and Nehru may very well be derived originally from the Kaul family tree.
Popular Kashmiri family names include: Beigh, Baig, Khan, Drabu, Wani, Mattoo, Fazali, Bhat, Shah, Durrani, Khan, Dedmari, Misger, Kumar, Mir, Adalti, Agha, Aima, Ambardar, Atal, Bazaaz, Bhan, Budshah, Bhagati, Bhat, Chedda, Chetan, Daftari, Darbari, Dar/Dhar, Durani, Farash, Fotedar, Ganju, Garyali, Gilani, Haak, Hangal, Handoo, Jalla, Jalali, Jitan, Jeetan, Kandhari, Kaul/Koul, Khemu, Kher/Khar, Khandaar, Kilam, Kokiloo, Mattoo, Moza (short for Mozaz), Mujoo, Nadeer, Nadeem, Naik, Nakhasi, Nakshband, Nehru, Ogra, Pandit, Panjabi, Parimoo, Pir, Qasba, Qazi, Qasid, Raina, Razdan, Shaw, Safaya, Sapru, Saproo, Saraaf, Shangloo Sopori, Sultan, Thusoo/Thusu/Thussu/Thussoo, Tikku/Tickoo, Toshkhani, Toorki/Turki, Trakroo, Tufchi, Wazir, Wakil, Wali, Wuthoo, Zalpuri, Zarabi, Zutshi. A few of these family names are common to both Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits (Brahmins).
Punjabi names often have the following format: given name, middle name (optional), family name. (For example: HarManPreet Singh Mattu)
Common Punjabi surnames include: Mattu,Amrit Waraich,Virk,Bedi, Chambal, Cheema, Chauhan, Kaleka, Arora, Sumag*(Smagh) Batra, Luthra, Agnihotri, Sood, Bhola, Jindal, Kapoor, Sachdeva, Grover, Chadha, Chopra, Johar, Khanna, Khurmi, Verma, Malhotra, Grewal, khangura, Garewal, Ahluwalia, Randhawa, Gill, Sekhon, Brar, Dhawan, Soni, Sahota, Dhaliwal, Shoker, Dhariwal, Deol, Duggal,Nand, Rattu, Singla, Seth, Garg, Ghuman, Bansal, Saini, Sharma, Toor, Sidhu, Singh, Sinha, Sehgal, Kaur, Salh, Sandhu, Mehroul, Sethi, Mehta, Shergill, Vansil,Matharoo(Matharu) and many more.
Common Kayastha surnames include: Mathur, Singh/Sinha, Goud, Bhatnagar, Saxena, Nigam, Kulshreshtha, Asthana, Srivastava, Shastri, Prasad, Verma, Bachchan etc.
People belonging to the Sikh religion have the last name "Singh" (meaning "Lion") for males, and "Kaur" (meaning "Princess") for females. This was enacted by the tenth Guru in order to eradicate the categorizing of people to their caste and/or occupation by their last names. It also emphasized equality among the Sikhs and gave them an identity that would be recognizable. However, Singh is a common surname in India and is not exclusive to the Sikh community.
There are Haryanavi Names also like Amit panchal,Sunil Hooda, Havi Malik, Ahlawat, Rana, Maan, Dahiya, Deswal, Balhara, Dabas, Khandol.
There are a variety of which can be divided into many categories.
East Indian names
Common surnames used by Assamese Brahmins are Barua (and its variations), Bhagawati, Bhattacharya/Bhattacharjee, Borthakur, Chakraborty/Chakravarthi, Gayen/Gain, Katakey, SarmaSharma and Thakur besides, Gotras. Gossains use Goswami surname while Kayasthas generally have Kakoty Dutta surname. Chaudhary, Das, Kalita besides, Barua, among others are common surnames used by Assamese Hindus.
Ahom names follow the format of given name, middle name, family name. The Ahom community have a naming system that is loosely based on the profession of their ancestors during the reigns of the Ahom kings. The last name "Saikia" indicates a commander over 100 soldiers ("sa" is 100), and the last name "Hazarika" indicates a commander over 1000 soldiers ("hazar" is 1000). Some other last names are based on the words "bor" ("elder") and "bura" ("older"): Bora, Borbora, Barua, Borbarua, Gohain, Borgohain, Buragohain.
Basumatary, Bwisumatary, Basumata, Brahma, Boro, Baro, Bodo, Bodosa, Baglary, Borgoyary, Chamframary, Daimari, Goyary, Hajowary, Hazary, Iswary, Islary, Kachary, Karjee, Lahary, Mandal, Mushahary, Mochary, Mohilary, Mech, Narzary, Narjinary, Owary, Ramchiary, sainary, Swargiary, Saiba, Subba, Thakur, Wary etc. are surnames used by Bodo's of Western Assam.
Bengali Hindu names:
Bengali Hindu names have the following format of given name, middle name and family name. In casual conversation, people may omit middle names. The middle name is not the father's name. There are no patronymics.
Bengali Kayastha surnames include Bose, Dutta, Ghosh, Guha, Mitra, Singh/Sinha, Sen, Pal, De/Dey/Deb/Dev, Palit, Chanda/Chandra, Das, Dam, Kar, Nandi, Nag, Som, etc. Brahmin surnames include Mukherjee, Banerjee, Chatterjee, Ganguly, Ghoshal, Goswami, etc. A Brahmin name is often the name of the clan or gotra, but can be an honorific, such as Chakravarti or Bhattacharya. Common Baidya surnames are Sengupta, Dasgupta, Duttagupta, Gupta, Sen-Sharma, etc.
Sometimes honorifics are used with the family name. However, the family name may be dropped completely as well. Some honorifics are Roy/Ray, Purkayastha, Chaudhuri, Roy Chaudhuri.
Other prominent Bengali surnames include Tagore/Thakur, Gain/Gayen, Majumdar/Mazumdar, Biswas, Guha-Thakurta, Bhowmick/Bhaumik, Sarkar, Deb-Roy, Bakshi, Mallick/Malik, Sanyal, Bhuinya, Banik, Bera, Debnath, Deria, Dawn, Dolui, Nath, Munshi, Das-Munshi, Dewanji, Kannungo/Qannungoh, Mahalanobis, Majhi, Garai, Haldar, Hazra, Hati, Jana, Kundu, Konar, Kapali, Maity, Manna, Malakar, Makur, Mondal, Panja, Sikdar, Samanta, Sasmal, Sardar, Sil/Shil, etc.
Bengali Muslim names:
Bengali Muslim names have the following formats of given name, middle name, family name or family name, given name, middle name. In casual conversation, people may omit middle names. Sometimes honorifics are used with the family name. However, the family name may be dropped completely as well. Some honorifics are Chaudhuri, Deraiya, Khondokar, Mir, and more. Many Muslims use Mohammad with their names.
Many Oriya family names come from jobs in the caste system:
Some Brahmin family names are: Rath, Acharya, Kar, Singh, Sabat, Pati, Patra, Mishra, Misra, Gahana, Mund, Padhy, Padhi, Mohapatra, Dash (as opposed to Das), Diwedi, Trivedi, Purohit, Sarangi, Nanda, Ratha, Panda, Satyapathy, Behera (descendents from Sambalpur and Kalahandi), Panigrahi, Tripathy, Muni, Upadhya, Dwivedi, Chaturvedi, Hota and Mavinkurve
Some Kshatriya family names are: Bal, Biswal,Behera,Dalei, Patro, Pradhan, Samal, Paikaray, Srichandan,Samantaray, Samanta, Dalasingharay, Jujharsingh, Gumansingh, Gachhayat, Samatasinghar, Sundarray, Jagdev, Jena, Baliarsingh, Harichandan, Mangaraj, Mardaraj, Nayak, Senapati, Rao, Rout, Swain, Routaray, Pratihari, Chhotaray, Champatiray, Samantaray, Khandayatray/Raj, Pattasani, Satrusalya, Danadapatta, Mansingh, Dalei/Dalabehera, Raya Guru, Badajena/Jena, Bidyadhara, Khuntia,Khatua,Mohapatra. Bhanayats and Khandayats were the caste of warriors who protected Orissa over thousands of years.
Some Vaishya family names are : Sahu/Sahoo, Agarwal, Samal, Dalai, Jena, Maheshwari.
Some Karana family names are: Mohanty, Pattnaik, Kar and Das.
Some Shivaism family names are Raulo (Rawlo), Mali
Western Indian names
Family names in western India are most commonly derived from patronyms. However, town of origin and caste is also sometimes the source of family names.
In Gujarat and Maharashtra the most common format for names is: given name, father's name (Middle name), last name. For example, for cricketer Sunil Manohar Gavaskar, "Sunil" is his given name, "Manohar" is his father's name, and "Gavaskar" is his family name. The custom is similar among East Slavic people, many of whom take a patronymic as their middle name.
Traditionally, when a woman marries, she takes her husband's given name as her middle name, in addition to taking his family name. In Maharashtra, people sometimes name a baby boy after one of his grandfathers. In Gujarat, when friends talk to one another, they may show affection by appending "brother" or "sister" to their names. "bhai", "kumar", and "lal" mean "brother", and "ben" and "bahen" mean "sister." For example, a man named Sunil may be called "Sunilbhai," and a woman named Lata may be called "Lataben." Similarly, in Maharashtra, Sunil may be called "Sunilrao."
Common Gujarati family names include Amin, Sisodiya, Chawda, Shah, Rana, Patel, Shroff, Bhakta, Soni, Mehta, Jani, Modi, Desai, Parekh, Doshi, Mistry, Bhanushali, Chotaliya, Rathod, Merchant Modhwadiya, Bapodra, Odedara and Chudasama. Common Marathi family names include Mhaiskar, Kulkarni, Soman, Joshi, Deshpande, Deshmukh, Wankhade, Chaudhary, Kolte, Kadam, Jadhav, Shinde, Ingle, Patil Godambe,pujari, thengil etc. The family name "Bhat" is used for a Maharashtrian Brahmin; an extra "t" is added for the Gujaratis. The surname Mhasde is predominantly found in Maharashtra State.
In Gujarat, family names ending in the suffix 'vala' or 'walla' may refer to the place where a person resides when written on wedding invitations (concotri), when listing members of the family. Someone who did not live locally, for example, someone from London may have his surname put down as 'Guidowalla' just to describe the fact they reside there; their actual surname might be the normal family name. It also may describe the ancestral village of the family when used as the actual surname. For example, if a family moves from the village of Meh to another place, they may change their family name to "Mehwalla," to indicate that they came from Meh. Or a family who works with wood may use the family name "Lakdawalla," to indicate that they work with wood.
Marathi surnames are the most varied in India and indicate either a title, job, or the place a person hails from. A number of Marathi family names end in "kar:" Kelkar, Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Savarkar, Madgulkar, Mayekar, Agarkar, Pendharkar, Bidkar, Acharekar, Shekatkar, Khanvilkar, Kamerkar, Navalkar, Naralkar, Joglekar, Juhekar, Deuskar, Manglokar, Chindarkar, Sarvankar, Mankar, Matondkar, Shegaonkar, Maindalkar, Medhekar, Sukenkar and Mondkar Mhaiskar.
The family name may indicate the village where the family came from. For example, the family name "Chindarkar" may mean that the family came from the town of Chindar. Other common names are Bhosle, Rao, Gaekwad, Mohite, Desai, Salvi, Joshi, etc. Thus the surname Pradhan indicates a leader while Karnik indicates a person whose ancestors came from Karnataka (shortened to Karnik).
Marathi last names and origins are extremely well documented, possibly going back for thousands of years. See the main article Maratha clan system.
Konkani people inhabit the states of Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka and some parts of Kerala. Basically Hindus, some were later converted to Catholicism . They are strictly patriarchal, thus the first name is always followed by the fathers names, though it's now only strictly observed by Hindus.
Hindus used titles like Shenai, Kamati, Shett, Parpati, Mahale, Naik, Nayak, Mallya, Kini, Pai, Prabhu, Kuduva, Kamath, Bhatt, Shanbhog, Gadiyar; or caste-identifying names such as Gaude, Velip, Mulli, and Chari.
Village names were used by them only after the advent of the Portuguese, when they migrated from their ancestral villages. A suffix kaar or hailing from was attached to the village names, e.g., Khorjuvekar, Chodankar, Raikar, Borkar, Vernekar, Kerkar, salgaonkar, korgaonkar. This practice is still alive today, and almost all Goans and a few of the Konkanis in other states use their original village names (where their ancestors belonged) before the Inquisition followed by their mass migrations to other places in Goa and other states.
Surnames denoting occupations are also common, e.g.Abhisheki, Teli, Kansar, Vaidya, Tanksali.
Almost all the Konkani Catholics have adopted Portuguese surnames like Rodriguez, Fernandes, Pereira, and Souza. However, a few families from the Gauda and Kunbi community bear their original last names like Gavkaar etc. Similarly, many Catholic families belonging to the Roman Catholic Brahmin (Bamonn) caste use their original Hindu surnames such as Prabhu, Shenoy, Naik, Pai, Shet, Bhat, etc.
South Indian names
For a long time, South Indians had a simple naming system. Historically, everyone was given a single name, which was chosen on the basis of one of three possible ways:
- The name of their village/town, e.g., Singri (singiri), Udyavara, Chitti, Madras, Kochi, Vaikom, Aranmula, Kozhikode, Kular, Chavali, Inkollu, Hattiangdi, Janaswamy, Kokradi, etc.
- Their family/clan name, e.g., Vala, Pavuluru(ri), Pulithevar, Sahonta
- Caste name, e.g. Paraiyar, Nayakar, Devar[dubious ] Nadar, Bhat, Iyer, Mudaliar, Pillai, Gounder,Reddy , Chowdary, Rao, Raju, Ganakan, Nair, Nambiar , Menon, Kaniyar, Naidu, Maruthuvar, Navithar, Pandit, Pandithar, etc.
Some Hindus in South India view the practice of adding the full family name to an individuals name to be a heretic practice, as according to their beliefs, the individuals heritage does not trump his or her own identity. And hence they are known to only use initials besides their name except for when caste names are given more preference by certain families rather than the family name itself.
First names and given names
The naming convention among some South Indian communities (especially the Palghat Iyer community) is one where the first-born male child takes the name of the paternal grandfather; the second male child, the maternal grandfather; the first female child takes the name of the paternal grandmother and the second female child, the maternal grandmother. Naming of subsequently born children do not follow any particular convention and are named after family deities and the like. For example, the first-born child to Kavassery Venkatraman Krishnan and Guruvayoor Shankaranarayan Lalitha (where Venkatraman is the child's paternal grandfather) would be named Venkatraman, and the second born male child would be named Shankaranarayanan. If the grandparents are alive when the grandchild is born, then the child is addressed by a given name or "pet name", so that the parents of the child can avoid the irreverence of uttering their parent's name while addressing their children.
Andhra Pradesh and Telangana
In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, family names are most commonly derived from the name of their ancestral hometown or the family profession in the caste system. The last name or the family name is placed before the first name for Telugu people. However, this practice has been changing slowly to maintain consistency with people from other cultures, particularly in diverse work environments.
Among Dalith communities, particularly in Southern districts, the surname 'Nethala' is quite common and popular. Since they are many, the word could have become their family name in course of time. The surname is also commonly referred to certain sections of Mala community as well.
For example: 'Nethala' is the surname and 'Prudhviraj' is the first name. Some of the last names of Telugu Brahmins include Susarla,Dhulipala, Evani, Munukutla, Tenali, Lanka, Narisetty, Devarakonda, Bhamidipati, Akula, Duvvuri, Pamarti, Addanki, Upadrashta, Vedula, Vedantam, Chakrala, Indrakanti, Addikecharla, Goteti etc. It should be noted however that last names need not be restricted to a caste all the time. Yadavas have their surnames like maddasani, boina etc.
Gouds have their surnames like Tulla, Siliveru, Matta, Kotha, Bandari etc. Padmasalis have their surnames like Damarla, chintakrindi, bitra etc.chowdarys have their surnames like inapakolla, nandamuri, Sakamuri, kora etc. Some Telugu people have both village name and a caste name as part of their name, for instance Alluri Sita Rama Raju or Sita Rama Raju Alluri.And Here Alluri is the surname referring the person's clan/ancestral home town, Sita Rama are the person's first and middle names and Raju is the caste name or sometimes they are called by their caste name alone, like Chowdary, Goud, Kumar, Rao, Naidu, Raju, Reddy, Thota are the most common last names in Telangana. There is no father's name as middle name in this region. In southern Andhra Pradesh, it is particularly common to use the caste name alongside the family name. Surnames starting with Yendluri, Pavuluru(ri) Chowdarys (Naidus) follow this system of naming. The order of ancestry of family names seem to be as follows. Family names ending with sanskritized/prakritized names are from oldest era of pre Jainism (Example: Ghantasala (means place of the bell in Sanskrit). Family names ending with "palle" or "palli" seem to date back to pre Ashokan era of Jainism. Example: Repalle, Parupalli, Kondapalli etc., reflecting the ancestry of the place or home town. Family names ending with "palle" or "palli" evolved later during post Ashokan period of Buddhism as new towns were established. Example: Gottipati, Bhamidipati, Gudipudi, Rimmalapudi etc., . As some heroes emerged in families, some families seem to have changed their family names reflectiing respective hero. Example: Baireddy, Veeramachaneni, Katamasani etc., . And there are family names reflecting professions as well.
Telugu Brahmin Names:
Smaarta vaidikis are the traditional family priests of all old clans and communities of Andhra Pradesh. If a "traditional" or 'conservative" community doesn't have smarta vaidikis as their family priests, it indicates they are recent arrivals or still upwardly mobile, or reformist- rebels against the old systems. Some vaidiki surnames are Nori, Kota, Puranam.
Some smaarta niyogi surnames end in—raju (--senior civil servant) like Pemmaraju, Akkiraju, etc., and—pragada (--minister) Rebba pragada, Maanapragada, Dharani pragada. etc. 'Preggade' is the old form, same as Kannada 'hegde' and means minister, or sponsor of the vedic ritual.
Often the surnames are derived from the place name ("village name") where their ancestor received some grants of land or revenue from ancient kings, sometimes "agraharam" as the estate is called. e.g. Abburi from village Abbur, Uppaluri from Uppalur, Nidamarthi from the village of Nidamarru, Valluri from Vallur, Dharanikota (the fort of dharani), Kocherlakota, etc. These agrahaarams and ghatikas are very ancient and usually found along the lower deltas of the large rivers. When the forests were being cleared these agraharams were sort of frontier outposts. Later large villages and towns grew around the agrahaarams.
Hence some Telugu surnames are derived from the village name, if they received such villages (agraharams) as a grant from a king, thus indicating a matter of pride and sense of bonding to that village.
In Kerala, the naming procedures are different in Travancore, Cochin and British Malabar.
In British Malabar the format followed is: Family name, Given name, Caste/title name (if applicable). Therefore, Kannott Karunakaran Marar, can be interpreted as Karunakaran of the Marar caste from the Kannoth family.
For centuries, the naming system in Kochi and Travancore has had the format: Family/House name (optional), father’s name, given name. E.g.: A K Antony: Arackaparambil (House Name) Kurian Pillai (Father’s Name with a title) Antony (First Name). Today, this age-old practice from the Southern Kerala has been adopted by people in Malabar too. Another practice observed in parts of Travancore is where spouses and children take on the first name of the father as their last or surname.
While Travancore and Kochi Muslims followed the common practice above, among the Malabar Muslims, it was a common practice in naming to mix (or localize) Arabic names (Given names) with Malayalam language ones, like "Putiyavittil Muḥammadutti" or "Fāṭimah Todiyattu" to "Pattumma Todiyattu". But currently complete Arabic names (Given names) are most probably used, in a Given name-Family name or Family name-Given name manner (Putiyavittil Inzamām or Ninā Rāshin Todiyattu). Among Christians in Kerala, it is a common practice to have a second given name (middle name) which is the baptismal name, usually the first name of a grandparent or godparent, like Roshni Mary George,Jogin Abraham Thomas,Shikku Varghese Manapuram. Sometimes the suffix –kutty is added to Christian names of Kerala Christians, for example Marykutty and Georgekutty.
The Tamil Nadu government had been taken many efforts to wipe out the caste system in the past. Social reformer E.V.R. Periyar had launched ‘Suya Mariyathai Iyakkam’ for the task. He call for not using caste names as surnames during his birth centenary celebration in 1979-80. Since then, most of the Tamil people stopped using their caste name. Moreover, CM M.G. Ramachandran had also ordered removal of caste names tagged to street names. There has been no use of surnames with 'casteist' connotations for almost 50–60 years.
Usually, Tamil Names follow this pattern: Initial (Village name), Initial (Father's name), Given Name, Caste name (Example: E.V. Ramasamy Naicker, where E stands for Erode, and V stands for the father's name).There is a widespread usage of a patronym (use of the father's given name as the second name). This means that the given name of one generation becomes the second name of the next. In many cases, the father's name appear as an initial and thus the given name may be presented as a second name. When written in full (for example, on a passport), the initial is expanded as last name. For example, a name like "R. Ramesh" or "Ramesh R.", will be written in full as "Ramesh Ramaiah", and refers to "Ramesh son of Ramaiah". If Ramesh then has a son named Ashvin, then his name would be "R. Ashwin" or "Ashwin Ramesh". There is also a general custom for Tamil women to adopt their husband's given name as their second name. Sunitha Saravanan (Sunitha daughter of Saravanan) might change her name to Sunitha Ram Kumar (Sunitha wife of Ram Kumar) after marriage. However, these customs vary from family to family and are normally never carried on over successive generations.
Some Tamils also use an inverted patronym. For example, Swati Krishna might write her name as Krishna Swati, making her patronym the first name and given name the last name. More common among women, the inverted patronym is also adopted by people migrating to the West who want to be called by their given names without having to explain Indian naming conventions. In earlier times a caste name or village name was used by the Tamils as their surname, but the present day generation is wary to do so. However, people influenced by northern India or western civilization frequently adopt their father's or husband's name and take it for successive generations. The various Tamil caste names include Paraiyar, Vishwakarma, Aachari, Konar, Idaiyar, Yadhavar, Iyer, Pillai, Mudaliar, Thevar, Nadar, Chettiar, Gounder. The naming is therefore done in the fashion: Sunitha Ram Kumar Iyer.
Tamil Family names which included place, fathers initials and caste identity had disappeared under political pressure to avoid persecution.
In Western, English-speaking societies, when there are two people with the same name, for example, Robert Jones and Robert Smith, in an elementary school class, they may be referred to as Robert J. and Robert S. respectively to avoid confusion. But two Ramans in Tamil Nadu have just the one name each. So the names of their fathers are used as initials instead of a surname. Raman, son of Gopal, would be G. Raman, and Raman, son of Dinesh, D. Raman. This led to the initial system, mostly followed in South India. Most schools automatically add the initials upon enrollment.
In some parts of Tamil Nadu, traditional family names have recently been abandoned in favour of a father's/husband's given name as a family name. The use of a father's/husband's given name as a family name is in vogue. These names are also used as initials. School and college records would have the names with initials as given below.
- "S. Janaki": the family name initial and then the given name.
- "S. Janaki" might also be written as "Janaki Sridar" in legal documents.
Legal documents such as passports will have the last name fully expanded, instead of initials. Other legal documents such as property deeds will have any of these name formats with the mention of father's /grandfather's/husband's given name and/or village/town/city name. Mandating expansion of initials in passport and multinational companies that are influenced by western standards is a big source of confusion in South India. For example, a letter for Raja Gopala Varma, son of Krishna Kumar, who is usually referred as "K. Raja Gopala Varma", might be addressed incorrectly to "Krishna Kumar Raja Gopala Varma".
Men's names are usually prefixed with initials as mentioned before. Some men used to omit the initial, adding the father's given name in the end. However, this isn't a legal name and won't change their name in official records. For example, both P. Chidambaram and Chidambaram Palaniyappan are valid; however the latter form is not legally used. Generally, the initials are omitted, and father's name is suffixed to shorten a name, for example, G. Raja Ravi Varma, son of M. Gopal Krishnan, becomes Raja Gopal.
For women, the system of initials is slightly different. Before marriage, a girl uses her father's initial, but after marriage, she may choose to use her husband's initial. Of late the trend has changed and many women, especially those employed, do not change the initials, but continue with their father's initials. This is mainly for convenience, since school degree and career papers have the woman's father's initials on them. Changing a name legally is a cumbersome procedure, including announcing the proposed change in a newspaper and getting it published in an official gazette. So the modern trend is to add the husband's name at the end, like some Western women who add their husband's name with a hyphen.
People who do not understand the South Indian naming protocol sometimes expand the initials in an incorrect manner. For example, the name P. Chidambaram, tends to be expanded to Palaniyappan Chidambaram, which is incorrect in the sense that it implies that the person's given name is "Palaniyappan", and the family name is "Chidambaram". In fact, the person's only name is "Chidambaram", with an initial of "P". Other such famous misrepresentations include the chess grandmaster, V. Anand (wrongly expanded as Vishwanathan Anand); cricketer, L. Sivaramakrishnan (Laxman is his father's name); and the freedom fighter and statesman, C. Rajagopalachari (often cited as Chakravarty Rajagopalachari). On the other hand, north India media refers to Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss (son of Dr. Ramadoss) often simply as Dr Ramadoss, which again is incorrect as Ramadoss is his father's name and not his name.
The involvement of Justice Party (1926 onwards) and the other Dravidian parties in the start of Independent India had contributed to change in naming conventions. For instance, a person by name Rajaram Iyer used to get advantage in schools, colleges, jobs etc. for being an Iyer. Alternatively, a person may not like to declare his /her caste name to avoid being identified. "Why should a person get advantage or disadvantage just by declaring his / her caste?". This was the primary question raised by the Dravidian ideology. For instance, a Rajaram Mudaliar may not get the same treatment as a Rajaram Nadar in a public office. Moreover, a Rajaram without any surname/castename will be put in confusion. This led to the inclusion of Father's name as initial. In certain vulgar terms, in some parts of Tamil Nadu it used to be referred like this. "We are born to Fathers, and not to Castes".
Some use initials as a form of pride and an option to recognize/credit their father. Some rare people use mother name's initial, when their father is cruel or deserted—just to credit their mother's role in bringing them up. In some parts of Tamil Nadu, the term "person without initial" is often used as an euphemism for bastard.
Surnames or family names
Family names are not common in Tamil Nadu, but most of the rest of South India uses a family name. There are also certain people in Karnataka who do not use family names anymore; however, they have initials to indicate their father's name.
- Invented family names such as that of Rajesh Pilot.
- The English last name of Anglo-Indians - descendants of British and Indian parents.
- Portuguese-Goan last names, such as Fernandes.
- Arabic surnames of Muslims with ancestors embraced Islam and Muslims of mixed Arab and Indian descent.
Many South Indians also use a family name.
Common South Indian surnames/family names are:
Kumar, Rao, Murthy or Moorthi or Moorthy, Shastri, Acharya, Prasad, Swamy, Pillai.
In Andhra: Rao, Kumar, Chowdary, Reddy, Naidu, Raju, Varma, Shastri, Achari, Sharma, Setti, Setty, Chetty, Gupta, Chari, Sharma, Bharadvaj.
In Tamil Nadu: Paraiyar,Iyer, Chettiar, Chetty, Achari, Mudaliar, Subrahmyan, Pillai, Nayar, Sooriyaprakash, Devan, Ilaiya, Rajan, Veluram, Peera, ending in 'swamy/swami', ending in 'rajan', ending in 'pillai', ending in 'nathan', Senthil, Murugan, Vijay, Sondharam, Sudhakar, Muthayan, Chandran, Jaison, starting with 'Jaya/Jeya', Jeyaramachandharan, Peeramaswamyan, Ranganatham, Kumar, Kular, Ikkuzhan, Adath, Murthiyrakkaventharan, Meena, ending with 'enthen/eenthen', ending with 'poosam/poosan'...
Malayali (Kerala) names
Most Keralites have a family name. Most of the family names are of obscure origin, but many have geographical origins – e.g., Vadakkedath (from the North), Puthenveetil (from the new house), Akkarakaran (from that coast), etc. Traditionally the full names followed one of three patterns:
- Family name followed by Given name followed usually by the caste name or title. This was the common pattern (for men and women) among the upper-caste Hindus, especially of Malabar and Cochin. Examples: Mani Madhava Chakyar (Mani is the family name or tharavad name, Madhava(n) is the given name and Chakyar is the caste name), Vallathol Narayana Menon (Vallathol, is the family name or tharavad name, Narayana(n) is the given name and Menon is the caste name), Olappamanna Subramanian Nambudiri, Erambala Krishnan Nayanar, etc. Sometimes the caste name/title was omitted, e.g., Kannoth Karunakaran (where the caste name Marar has been omitted). In the case of women the caste name/title was, traditionally, usually different, for example "Amma" was used for "Nair", "Andarjjanam" was used for "Nampoothiri", "Varyasyar" for "Varyar", "Nangyar" for "Nambiar" "Kunjamma" for "Valiathan/Unnithan/Kartha" etc. (see the Singh/Kaur convention in Punjab), e.g., Nalappat Balamani Amma whose brother was Nalappat Narayana Menon and Savithri Andarjjanam (A renowned author). Quite often the family name will have more than one part to it, e.g., Elankulam Manakkal Sankaran Namboodiripad, Madathil Thekkepaattu Vasudevan Nair, etc. The family name is usually initialled, the given name is sometimes initialled (never when there is no caste name following) and the caste name (if present) is never initialled. This is completely arbitrary. So we have as common forms Vallathol Narayana Menon, C. Achutha Menon, E K Nayanar and P. Bhaskaran (here Bhaskaran is the given name; the caste name, Nair in this case, has been omitted). In the Nair caste, using the maternal family name at the beginning is also common. e.g. Maythil Radhakrishnan, who is better known by his family name Maythil.
- Family name followed by Father's given name followed by Given name. This is common among the rest of the population. For example, most traditional Christian names followed this pattern. Usually the Family name and Father name were initialled. In case of (Hindu) women "Amma" was frequently used (as in the previous case). Examples include K M Mani, K G George, V S Achuthanandan, K R Gowri Amma. Many Palakkad Iyers (Kerala Iyers) use an adaptation of this convention by replacing the Family Name with the name of the "gramam" (village). Example: Tirunellai Narayanaiyer Seshan (T N Seshan), where Tirunellai would be the village name, Narayanaiyer is the Father's given name and Seshan is the given name; or Guruvayoor Shankaranarayanan Lalitha abbreviated as G. S. Lalitha.
- Given Name followed by Title. This is common particularly among Syrian Christians in the old central Travancore area, where the king (Maharaja) or the local ruler (Raja or Thampuran) used to assign some titles to select families. Examples include Varghese Vaidyan (Vaidyan), Fr. Geevarghese Panicker (Panicker), Chacko Muthalaly (Muthalaly), Avira Tharakan (Tharakan), Varkey Vallikappen (Vallikappen) etc.
- Given Name followed by Father's name as surname and the Initial taken from Mother's name
This is a common trend nowadays where both the mother's and father's names are found with the given Name. For example, L. Athira Krishna. Here the Mother's name 'Leela' finds mention in the initial and father's name 'Krishna' is taken as surname.
- Much of these traditional naming patterns have now disappeared. The family names are usually not included nowadays (this can probably be attributed to the decline of the joint families or tharavads). The most common patterns nowadays is to have given names, followed by the father's given name (patronymic, e.g. Vishnu Narayanan or Anil Varghese) or caste name (e.g. Anup Nair). It is also not uncommon for the village of origin to be use in lieu of the family name, especially in South Kerala, e.g. Kavalam Narayana Panicker, where Kavalam is a village in Alapuzha district.
Many Christian names, such as Varghese (Ghevarghese), are of Aramaic/Syrian origin.
Originally people from the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala did not use any formal surnames, like how caste titles are used as surnames in northern India. By definition, surnames are carried over generations. However, this is not the case with Tamil names. In practice, people use either the father's name or initial as a substitute for the surname. Initials, when used, can be placed either before or after their given name. For example; G. Venktaesan, Venkatesan G, or Venkatesan Govindarajan, are different ways in which a person with a given name Venkatesan, whose father's given name is Govindarajan can refer to himself. And when Venktesan has a child, say the child has a name Murugan, it will become V. Murugan. Hence, the concept of surnames does not exist in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Tamil (Malaysian Indian) names
Most ethnic Indians (mostly Tamils) in Malaysia trace their ancestral origin to South India. In Malaysia, the general naming format for Indians is X son of Y or X daughter of Y. The term 'son of' is ANAK LELAKI (abbreviated to A/L in ID documents) in the Malay language and the term 'daughter of' is ANAK PEREMPUAN (abbreviated to A/P in ID documents).
For example, Murugan the son of Vellupillai would appear as MURUGAN A/L VELLUPILLAI in Malaysian ID Card (MyKad) in the name field and the Malaysian Passport.
Using the example above, MURUGAN A/L VELLUPILLAI would also arrange his name in such a way that his father's name become his initial and his given name appears to be his Surname/ Last Name: V. MURUGAN. This practice is similar to the name format of the famous South Indian writer R. K. Narayan (R - Place of Origin: RASIPURAM, K - Father's Name: KRISHNASWAMI). Since most Malaysian Indians are today born in Malaysia, usually only the father's name appears as the initials.
However an increasing number of Malaysian Indians are migrating to the West, and they have begun using their father's name as the Last Name to avoid confusion. Therefore, Murugan the son of Vellupillai would simply go as MURUGAN VELLUPILLAI or M. VELLUPILLAI in the West.
Tamil (Singaporean Indian) names
In the British colonial days, male Indian (mostly Tamils) names would employ the connective term S/O (son of) and female Indian names D/O (daughter of) respectively, and these terms are still in common use in Singapore.
The family names of Telugu people precede the given name and are mostly abbreviated. For example, the name Kambham Nagarjuna Reddy would be abbreviated as K.N. Reddy. In this name Nagarjuna Reddy is the given name, and Kambham would be the family name (surname). Some of the people who belong to a particular Reddy caste include the caste names in their names, especially Naidu, Chowdary, Pillai, Varma, Thota, Goud or Mudiraj. For example, Vijay Reddy, Hari Chowdary, Devender Goud. In general, if the name of a person in Western format was Vijay Reddy Kandi (given name, second given name and family name), then the name in Telugu-speaking areas would be written as K. Vijay Reddy. There are same surnames like Lankala to many castes, such as Lankala Veeraiah in Yadav caste, or Lankala Deepak Reddy in Reddy caste. Common last name: Pesala.
Sharma, Shastri, and Rao are commonly found family names among Telugu Brahmins, Rao mainly used for Velama caste. These names are mostly placed at the end of their name; for example, in Karne Prabhakar Sharma,Karne stands for the surname and Sharma indicates the person belongs to Bramhin community.
Family names of Telugu people are supposed to be the name of the village or area their ancestors came from. Sometimes the family name can be the same for people belonging to different castes. For example Nandumuri Taraka Ramarao could be abbreviated as N. T. Rama Rao. Taraka Rama Rao is the given name and probably Nandumuru (a village in Krishna) is the ancestral village of N.T.R.
Sometimes the family name can be same as human body part such as Boddu (umbilicus) or Lingam (male genitalia). However, there is always spiritual meaning associated for those names. In spiritual sense, Boddu means center of origin of universe, Lingam means Lord Shiva.
According to the Chicago Manual of Style, Indian names are usually indexed by the family name, with the family name separated from the other names by a comma, but indexing may differ according to the local usage and the preferences of the individual.
- ' Toward Freedom: An Autobiography of JawaharLal Nehru', the first prime minister of India. Chapter III - Descent from Kashmir, Page 16. Readily available online at http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=74007923. ISBN 978-1-299-41105-0
We were Kashmiris. Over two hundred years ago, early in the eighteenth century, our ancestor came down from that mountain valley to seek fame and fortune in the rich plains below. Those were the days of the decline of the Moghal Empire.
Raj Kaul was the name of that ancestor of ours, and he had gained eminence as a Sanskrit and Persian scholar. He attracted the notice of the Emperor and, probably at his instance, the family migrated to Delhi, the imperial capital, about the year 1716. A jagir with a house situated on the banks of a canal had been granted to Raj Kaul, and, from the fact of this residence, "Nehru" (from nahar, a canal) came to be attached to his name. Kaul had been the family name; in later years, this dropped out and we became simply Nehrus.
- S. K. Sharma, U. Sharma, ed. (2005). Discovery of North-East India: Geography, History, Culture, Religion, Politics, Sociology, Science, Education and Economy. North-East India. Volume 1. Mittal Publications. p. 182. ISBN 978-81-83-24035-2.
- da Silva Gracias, Fátima (1996). Kaleidoscope of women in Goa, 1510–1961. Concept Publishing Company. pp. 166 pages (see page:148). ISBN 9788170225911.
- Nāyaka, Puṇḍalīka Nārāyaṇa; Vidya Pai (2002), Upheaval (in English and Konkani), p. 144
- Kurzon, Dennis (2004). Where East looks West: success in English in Goa and on the Konkan Coas. Multilingual Matters. pp. 158 pages9see page:27). ISBN 9781853596735.
- Pinto 1999, p. 168
- Maffei 1882, p. 217
- Sakkottai Krishnaswami Aiyangar (1923). Some Contributions of South India to Indian Culture. ISBN 8120609999. ISBN 9788120609990.
- P.S. Sundaram (1987). The Kural.
- "First name, middle name, surname... real name?". The Hindu.
- I’m Anand. My father is Vishwanathan. At some point people assumed that this must be my first name and Anand must be my last name. It’s common in the West. Vishwanathan was unpronounceable for them. Became Vishy. But my father is Vishwanathan Krishnamurthy. I am Anand Vishwanathan. Of course, my wife is Aruna Anand. So among the mysteries we have to explain to many people is, though we are married, why we don’t share the same family name.
- "Indexes: A Chapter from The Chicago Manual of Style" (Archive). Chicago Manual of Style. Retrieved on December 23, 2014. p. 26 (PDF document p. 28/56).
- Thurston, Edgar (1906). Ethnographic notes in Southern India. Government Press, Madras. pp. 532–546.
- Kaushik, Devendra Kumar (2000) Cataloguing of Indic Names in AACR-2. Delhi: Originals. ISBN 81-7536-187-5.