Names in Sri Lanka

Naming Conventions of Sri Lanka

The Sinhalese community usually have two names. The first is called the “GE” (Sinhalese for House or Tribe, pronounced “gay”) Name while the second is the actual name of the individual. The “GE” name may indicate the place from which their family originated, the title or profession of the Head of the family or any other special characteristic of the family that prevailed at the time. Hence a person may be called “MuhandiramlaGE Simon” which indicates that he hails from the “House of Muhandiram” and his name is Simon. Muhandiram is a title meaning an appointed commissioner or leader of a locality. This prefix “GE” name is carried down through all descendants irrespective of whether they are male or female and would serve more effectively for searching such family connectivity. Sinhalese women usually adopt the second name of the spouse after marriage, yet keep their prefixed family or “GE” name in tact. The Sinhalese, usually, use an initial to indicate the first name rather than spell it out in its full form

The Tamil community have a completely unique and different method of nomenclature. They also, usually, use two names, the first representing their father’s name and the second representing their own. Eg; Ponnambalam Ramanathan indicates that the individuals name is Ramanathan and he is the son of Ponnambalam. The son of P. Ramanathan would then become Ramanathan Arulanantham, where the son’s name is Arulanantham and is prefixed by the name of his father. The Tamils, like the Sinhalese, usually, use an initial to indicate the first name rather than spell it out in its full form. Women too use the same naming structure but do adopt the husbands name after marriage. Searching for connectivity using names for Tamils can be difficult unless one recognizes the convention they usually adopt.

It must also be noted here that both Sinhalese and Tamil communities maintain a caste system, even until today, and this caste system can also have its influence on providing them prefixed names or titles.

Moors, who are Muslims of Arab origin, have multiple methods of naming amongst their community. Many of those in villages and remote towns use their fathers name as a prefix, similar to the Tamils, differing in only by the fact that they may use more than one name for the prefix. Eg; Muhammad Ismail has a son and names him Muhammad Ismail Muhammad Saleem where the sons name is Muhammad Saleem. The names Muhammad or Ahmed are commonly sued across the board as first names for male Muslims while the names Fathima or Sithy or Ummu or Noor are used for females. Furthermore Muslims have a tendency to give more than one name for their offspring. This, usually, rises from the fact that all members of both spouses family take part in contributing these names. Modern Muslims living in the metropolitan areas and big cities, have adopted the use of the running Surname as is used in western cultures. This is a direct influence of the Colonial era. Malays too follow the practice of carrying on the Surname throughout their descendants. However they have a tendency to use the Prefix TUAN for males and GNEI for females as a standard similar to the Muhammad and Fathima of the Moors. Although Islam does not recommend the giving up of the family name by women after marriage most Muslim women have adopted the modern western method of taking their husbands name. Muslims also have a tendency to use initials to depict all their names except the last one thus giving rise to many names like, M.S.M. Irfan or A.L.M. Rasheed.

By this they sometimes become known to the rest of the community by the initials instead of the last name, ;eg ALM or MSM. Many Muslims living in the Central Province of the country also have Sinhalese “GE” names prefixed to all their Muslim names. This has been, mainly, on account of special titles and honour rendered upon them by the ancient Sinhalese Kings for various services and work rendered by them to the Royalty and Community during that era.

The Burghers, who are direct descendants of Colonial Europeans and the locals, either Sinhalese or Tamil, conform to the western system of naming where the Surname is carried down the line. Women, of course, adopt the Surname of the husband after marriage.

The Christians, who are mostly descended from converts from Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus during the colonial era adopt the modern western method of nomenclature keeping their surnames running down the line. However, some of them may still carry their prefix “GE” names, if they were previously Sinhalese. Some Tamil Christians still maintain their original Hindu system of nomenclature keeping their immediate fathers name as a prefix.

Thus it will be seen that Sri Lankans have a mixed variety of naming conventions and methods amongst all their ethnic groups to such an extent that it would be almost impossible to use any fixed type of search methodology to research their progeny. This fact is very important to be borne in mind by those using presently established methods of search using Surnames or Family Names.