The term Pillai literally means "child" in the Tamil language. The title occur both as a single name or as a suffix to the name. The title is used by different castes such as the Agamudayars, Isai Vellalars, Karaiyars, Konars, Kuravars and Vellalars.
Notable people with this surname or its variants include:
- A. R. Pillai, Indian freedom fighter
- Ananda Ranga Pillai (1709–61), dubash in the service of French East India Company
- Ariranga Pillay (born 1945), former Chief Justice and briefly Acting President of Mauritius
- Arumuka Navalar, born as Kandarpillai Arumugapillai, a Sri Lankan Hindu reformer
- B. Ravi Pillai is an Indian entrepreneur. He is the founder and managing director of RP Group of Companies.
- Candice Pillay, born 1981, singer and songwriter
- Changampuzha Krishna Pillai, Malayalam poet
- Chempakaraman Pillai (1891–1934), freedom fighter from Travancore of Tamil descent
- Chinna Migapillai, 17th century feudal lord and rebel leader from the Jaffna Kingdom
- Devasahayam Pillai (1712–52), Indian court official, controversial convert to Christianity
- Dhanraj Pillay (born 1968), Indian hockey player
- G. P. Pillai, barrister, established the first English newspaper in South India
- G. Parameswaran Pillai (1890–1963), Dewan of Travancore
- Gooty Kesava Pillai (1860–1933), Indian journalist and freedom-fighter. Delegate from Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh at the first session of the Indian National Congress.
- K. C. Pillai, Doctor of Divinity, (1900–70) a Bishop-at-large of the Indian Orthodox Church, Antiochean Succession, Chennai (Madras), India.
- K. C. Sreedharan Pillai (1920–85), Indian mathematician
- K. Perumal Pillai
- K. Thamboosamy Pillay (1850–1902), a prominent member of the Tamil community in British Malaya.
- Kavimani Desigavinayagam Pillai, Indian freedom fighter, poet
- L. D. Swamikannu Pillai, Indian astronomer, Speaker of Tamil Nadu Assembly
- M. P. Narayana Pillai, a Malayalam writer
- Manonmaniam Sundaram Pillai, eminent writer in Tamil literature; his poem "Niraarum Kadal Udutha" is the official Tamil Anthem
- Maraimalai Adigal (Nagai Vedachalam Pillai) eminent Tamil orator and writer started Pure Tamil movement Tanittamil Iyakkam.
- Marimutthu Pillai, musician
- Maruthanayagam Pillai (1725–64), Indian soldier and administrator also known as Muhammed Yusuf Khan.
- Murali Pillai, Singaporean politician of Indian descent
- Nadakkal Parameswaran Pillai (born 1931), leader of Indian Coffee House movement
- Naraina Pillai, a social entrepreneur and businessman
- Navanethem Pillay, South African Judge, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
- Nisha Pillai, Indian-born journalist and BBC news anchor
- P. Govinda Pillai, a Communist Party of India leader
- Rao Bahadur P. I. Chinnaswamy Pillai, first Municipal Chairman of Palakkad, Kerala, India
- Palani Subramaniam Pillai (1908–62), Carnatic music percussionist
- Paravoor T. K. Narayana Pillai (1890–1971), Indian freedom fighter
- Pattom A. Thanu Pillai (1885–1970), Second Chief Minister of unified Kerala, Communist leader
- Periyapillai, 16th century king of the Jaffna Kingdom
- Prabhakaran Velupillai, leader of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
- Pradani Muthirulappa Pillai, minister of Ramnad during the reign of Muthuramalinga Sethupathy
- Prem Nath Pillai (born 1982) Malaysian based filmmaker and editor
- R. Balakrishna Pillai (born 1935), former State minister in Kerala
- Rajmohan Pillai (born 1964), Indian businessman
- Rhea Pillai, Indian model
- Sreekanteswaram Padmanabha Pillai, lexicographer
- Subbayya Sivasankaranarayana Pillai (1901–50), Indian mathematician
- Swadeshabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai, journalist and political activist. Translated Karl Marx's biography into Malayalam
- T. S. Ramasamy Pillai (1918–2006), Freedom-fighter, politician and former Member of the Legislative Assembly (India)
- Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai (1912–99), Malayalam author
- C. W. Thamotharampillai, publisher of ancient Tamil texts
- V. N. Rajasekharan Pillai, current Vice Chancellor of Indira Gandhi National Open University IGNOU
- V. O. Chidambaram Pillai (1872–1936), Indian freedom fighter, popularly known as V.O.C. and as Kappalottiya Tamilan
- Venkatarama Ramalingam Pillai, (AKA Namakkal Kavignar Ramalingam Pillai) poet and freedom fighter.
- Conference, Association of South Asian Archaeologists in Western Europe International; Parpola, Asko (1994). Annales Academiae Scientiarum Fennicae. Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia. p. 580. ISBN 9789514107290.
- University, Vijaya Ramaswamy, Jawaharlal Nehru (2017-08-25). Historical Dictionary of the Tamils. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 268. ISBN 9781538106860.
- Pfister, Raymond (1995). Soixante ans de pentecôtisme en Alsace (1930-1990): une approche socio-historique. P. Lang. p. 166. ISBN 9783631486207.
- Pandian, Jacob (1987). Caste, Nationalism and Ethnicity: An Interpretation of Tamil Cultural History and Social Order. Popular Prakashan. p. 110. ISBN 9780861321360.
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