Saturday, 1 June 2013

Curious Case of 'NO' surnames - Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu - a state in India where three things differ from main stream India.

1. We don't acknowledge Hindi , as National language ( An easiest way to annoy your Tamil friends is to quote , " Don't you know Hindi, it's your National language ".

2. We receive rains in October and November , when rest of India drenches itself during June to August.

3. And the final one is , we don't use our surnames in regular Indian sense of showing off the caste we belong to.

And here comes the curious case of no surnames.

We, Tamilians ( People who believe that their ancestry is Tamil Nadu ) often receive 'shock' as a reaction when we tell our name to a Non-Tamilian. 

The first question would be " Surname nahin hae kyaa ? " ( Don't you have a surname ). Their shock is understandable for rest of India has an ingrained thought process which uses surnames to profile people's capabilities and seek allegiance. 

And usually I reply them with a smile for I can't explain the long history of Dravidian Politics, socio-economic situation of Tamil Nadu during 1900's and the counter-social revolution which emerged in response to the dominant Hindi majority which all played a major role in why nearly 70 million Tamilians don't have a surname.

By the way, for people who want to know my surname or last name , it is Karunanithi.

Here, let me elaborate. 

Am born in an Indian State , Tamil Nadu and we have an entirely different naming convention , thanks to the Dravidian parties that had ruled our state for more than 40 years and still ruling.

The naming syntax encouraged by them is [Given Name] [ Father's name] in place of [Native Village] [Father Name] [Given Name] [Caste Name/Title associated with the Caste you belong/ Title that Signifies your Social Status] and the order may vary . 

But there is a catch. Acquiring such fancy long names require social status in the feudal society which was prevalent . 

Coming back , my Official name is Jeyan Nathann Karunanithiwhere Jeyan Nathann is my given name and Karunanithi is my Father's name. So we usually write our name as [First letter of your last Name] . [Your given Name]. So my name now becomes K.Jeyan Nathann.

My given name , 'Jeyan Nathann' , generally confuses people for it is very SriLankan sounding. Srilankans have this love affair with the name 'Jeya-' and some popular names include Jeyawardane , Jeyasooriya , Jeyasinghe , Jayamina, Jayamini . And here, let me clarify that my ancestral place is Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu , which was the seat of Chola Empire , Thanjavur Nayaks and Thanjavur Marathas at various points in a long timeline.

Jeyan - Means Victor and Nathan means 'Son of God' in both Hebrew and Sanskrit so that technically makes me , Son of God who is a Victor .

Karunanithi - has a root word 'Karuna-' which means compassion in Sanskrit . So the meaning comes as , He who has compassion and kind heart.

Pillai - points that am a man from landed gentry

If I were born before 1930's , my name would have been Jeyan Nathann Karunanithi Pillai . Here Pillai refers to the title that my family has and it is loosely related to the caste I am from.

Pillai is a title which is generally taken by people who were land owning gentry in the feudal system that existed then and its usage as a last name is spread across quite a few castes in Tamil Nadu. In Kerala, it is used by Nair community. And as time progressed, many started to adopt surnames at their will as they became  upwardly mobile both socially and economically. 

Castes and Tribes of Southern India by Edgar Thurston and works by Andre Béteille  reveal on how the caste titles were adopted at people's will and hence doesn't signify the supposed status that they claim to profess by having one . 

Dravidian parties, which rose during 1940's were of opinion that having caste based and social status based surnames are a vestige of the past and hence were hell bent on removing that practice, for it propagated discrimination. This action was part of the empowerment of Backward castes which had lesser opportunities in Education and work due to the discrimination which was meted out. 

And hence forth people who were born after 1950's effectively didn't have caste based titles as last names and adopted the current style of [Given Name][Father's Name]. 

This also reflects the changed political and social environment inTamil Nadu , which has always been at odds in comparison to rest of India.

And the best part is even roads and streets in  Tamil Nadu is surname-neutral . 

So hail Equality and Social Justice .

Be it conflicting or appreciatory, would love to have views from you - To the Random reader .


  1. The people in Tamilnadu have been mentally enslaved and addicted to the opium of Dravidology. But no one can question Atheism as such and against superstition and even question religion and other basic tenets. But what Dravidology did was destroyal of a system and hatred against Tamil Brahmin community (Ayyars and Ayyengars) only falsifying history and intellectual aberrations of certain people which was normal in any society. The Tamil Brahmins were projected in the worst picturization blood sucking vampires of five thousand years. After the fall of Chola empire and collapse of Pandiyas in Madurai the Tamil Brahmins became vagabonds and remained dormant uptp 1845 when British opened up the floodgates of English education notably in Cauvery and Tambrabarni areas. A study of the Madras Imperial Gazettet of would reveal that the Britishetrs dreaded Marati/Andhra Brahmins and affluent sections of Non Brahmins. But things changed within fifty years and Britishers were puzzled at the complete monopoly of Tamil Brahmins whom they considered innocuous and exhorted even affluent Muslims to participate in governance putting a brake to Tamil Brahmins. The Dravidian movement unnecessarily targeted them forgetting them the fact that the Dravidas as they were called in Sanskrit were dreaded in North Indian ACADEMIC circles(there were Dravida Brahmins in Buddhism. - Dignagha, Nagarjuna notable among them) since they had become the custodian of Srautha Suthras and it should be noted that even now Tamil Brahmins wherever they had lived are following the marriage rituals as expounded by Andal.Now what is the effect? To what extent Dravidism has succeeded?Tamilians are the only class of people who have become completely dichotomic they want to make every community to become Brahmins by making Archakas in Temples. Are they able to change prasadams in Temples? The same curd bath acknowledged as speciality of Tamil Brahminism in Perumpanarrupadai. By becoming Archakas and eating Curd bath with vadumangai the Dravidian movement is creating new class of Tamil Brahmins. The present day Tamilians have become world citizens but shamelessly appropriating Saivism as Dravidism. They have got every right but they have to create mythology without an iota of Hinduism. The most bizarre point is despising Ramayana up to Parliament and shamelessly running specials to Rameswaram.A true Tamilian either accept pan Indianism or completely reject Hinduism which should have own theology which may be even Atheism. The greatest another dichotomy is glorifying Chola Tigers. Cholas can never be called true Tamilians since they are responsible for the largest immigration of Brahmins from Bengal, Ayodhya, Purva desam and even Kashmir. The Tamilian dilemma will continue as long as it is vacilitating between anti Tamil Brahminism and partial acceptance of North whenever it suited them-during 1969 Presidential election DMK supported SriVVGIRI a Telugu Brahmin in place of Sanjeeva Reddy and DMK is always comfortable with Vajpayees, Sharmas,Upadhyas and Mukerjees/Tripatis and only Subramanian Ayyars/Srinivasa Iyengars are enemies of Tamil. Hail to selective discrimination of Dravidian/Dichotomy.

    1. Tejaswini. I can understand that you despise Dravidian politics and their pseudo-atheistic beliefs. In fact nearly 95 % of Dravidian party supporters don't identify themselves with their tenets and as a matter of fact, the foot falls in temples have been steadily increasing over the years.

      The reason why they are popular is because of their single minded dedication in bringing welfare schemes and emancipation of previously subjugated classes. Statistics speaks for themselves . I wish you read the below article to understand why removal of surnames, was indeed a big deal .

      By the way , we believe that we are indeed well off without any national parties ruling us for as a state we believe in Federalism rather than being subjugated to some central leadership in New Delhi.

      In case of Tamil Brahmins, I do understand and acknowledge that it's a great mistake that has been metted out against them. During British rule , they were seen as an extension of Government and adding to the regressive social practices then, an entirely negative image had been shown upon them.

      But the times are changing and now you see a revival of New Tamil which is characterized by assertiveness.

      Hoping to hear back from you and thank you for the elaborate quotes from various sources .

  2. //We, Tamilians ( People who believe that their ancestry is Tamil Nadu ) often receive 'shock' as a reaction when we tell our name to a Non-Tamilian. //

    We, the Eelam Tamils are also Tamilians but wed do not believe our ancestry is from Tamil Nadu. We are the indigenous people (Tamils) of Sri Lanka. :)

    1. Glad to hear from you Thivya :)In fact its true that Tamils have been in Sri lanka from time immemorial. I wrote this post with Indian Tamils and Indian Tamil diaspora in mind.

  3. My opinion on the eradication of surnames among Tamils.

  4. I'm Tamil. All my life, I was called by my first name, and no one bothered me about my last name. Ever since I came to the US for studies, my official last name is my dad's (first) name. I am about to publish a manuscript, and I'm confounded because my last name is actually my dad's name, and that's how it might be cited (if people actually read the paper lol) and I'm feeling kind of sad - because that's not right. I'll probably just have to go with it, because I don't want to create some other last name, or use my first name as my last name, as that might get confusing... Just wondering if you, or anyone else in the Tamil Diaspora has encountered a similar situation with regards to academic publishing, where last names get cited, with first/middle name initials - and what did choose to do.

    Thank you :)