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what's in a (last) name?

Aro called me today to discuss what was the full name of Ram!

My instant reaction was Ram Prasad (with my love for Golmal, I could not have come up with something better)
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Actually he had called me to tell me that Ram was a South Indian!

He said, D. Ram (and that he was a South Indian) D for Dashrath, and then improvised and said D.A.Ram for Dashrath Ayodhya Ram (and we could go on from there)

and then we got into a more serious discussion about when did we Indians started using sir-names or like a lot of people call them, last names!

From how I see it, Indians probably had last names for a very long time, however they were not being used very often because no artifacts being created for the names... no forms were being filled, no admissions happened with paper trails, or salaries being distributed with signed forms... and a lot of people had salutations being used instead of last names!

I could immediately think of second names of any characters that I know from the past except maybe Tulsi - Das? Kabir also had a second name, but I cannot remember it right now, and he was mostly referred to as Sant Kabir!

Yudhisthir, Ram, Lakshman, Ravan, Krishn, Bhardwaj, Dronacharya, Parashuram, Akbar, Birbal, Babar, and so on are a few names out of the many that I remember and none have a popular second name reference that I know of... they have salutations though!

I now recall some names from history, like Sher Shah Suri, Bahadur Shad Zafar, Jalal ud-din Mohammad Akbar. Akbar was more popular by his Last name, so to speak, and was the son of Mohammad Humayun (Complete Title : "Al-Sultan al-'Azam wal Khaqan al-Mukarram, Jam-i-Sultanat-i-haqiqi wa Majazi, Sayyid al-Salatin, Abu'l Muzaffar Nasir ud-din Muhammad Humayun Padshah Ghazi"). Humayun's father Babar, had a rather easy complete name, Zahir ud-din Muhammad Jalal ud-din Babur. So it seems to me that Mughals were also using some sort of salutation and the reference to Mohammad in their names!

As far as Hindu kings and emperors go, I remember some names like Chandragupta Maurya, however there are multiple views on his last name Maurya and his origin, however he is referred to mostly as Chandragupta only. Another name is Hemu Chandra Vikramaditya!!!

I spent a little more time reading about these names and people and seems like while the second names, or sir names, or Family names ( either before or after the name) have been there for centuries, they have not been very popular in the locals, or maybe they were! We would not know someone who is not that popular from history anyway!

With the coming of English to India, I think paper trails were introduced, documentation and collection of artifacts and forms started which made the use of second/sir names a much popular and now indispensable norm!


For a long time my take on history was what the first few lines of this song are :) with time, I have realized that I do care more than what I used to !!!


  1. I think with the growing population (with more and more people with the same name),it became necessary to identify them uniquely..a simple way was to address them with a second name..The caste system anywyas has been around for long..remember the basic divions as Brahmin's,Kshatriya's,Vaishya's and Shudra's..
    Brahmins had there own categorisation..on the basis of Gotra's and stuff (this has always been there)..Thats how probably the castes started..Iam sure this was all way before Brit's came to India!!
    Caste system even existed during the 4th Century!!

  2. You are taking this to into a different tangent Vaishali... I am not talking about the caste system, but use of a second name!

  3. some one with a last name like mine, which has come from scotland sure have a few thoughts...

    many of the names earlier, eg the mughal king's names you have cited were descriptions of their achievments, or desired characteristics....the other indian kings too...are know as maurya etc, in the history books...to make it easier to categorize....in life they may have been referred to by again achievments.

    even in the western world....it was a given name...prefixed with a title...and suffixed with the place of origin....duke of malbrough, david of saxony....etc

    for tha aam adami....i think it would have been the given name...and some other names..like' mother'/fathers, villages, occupation...etc..to identify the exact person...and that became over time the last name.....

    screwala, battliwala!! .... though it would be intersting to know where kapoor...or ahuja...or sharma ..or the myraid other names...originated from...hmmm

    i used to love this song....yet, i always loved history, at one point wanted to be an archeologist :P..dig into the past ....omg !! but i think i am one even now...just a little differently than i had thought ...lol !!

  4. I too remember a very few second names from history! Today, formally it's important to add the last name because I know I'm not the only Kalpesh on the face of earth. May be in those days, There wasn't a shortage of first names or rather say, the first names were very unique and so the last name often went ignored.

    - Pixellicious Photos

  5. caste system has been there in India for a long time..To depict/ differenciate one person from other on the basis of their caste this surname process must have started..
    with time as the population grew it becomes necessary to maintain one's individuality through first name+last name....
    Today there are instances where irrespective of one's caste, people are using titles like Kumar but yes still title is there..

  6. To bypass any confusion between two entirely different people with same names. I know it can get a lot confusing if you have 30 Jaspreet Kaur-s in one city! :D If one was J K Bhambra and lets say the other J K Ghumman, the family name most definitely sets the two apart!

  7. North South.. whatever.. Ram existed.. so thats that.. lots of lessons from his story though..

  8. From where does Aro get these intresting questions? :)if I am not mistaken he was the one who asked " where is Radha ??"

  9. Thanks Folks for your thoughts! don't have specific individual comments hence one single comment on this post!!!

    @ Tunna
    beats me :D koi to super natural connection hain I guess!