Friday, 10 January 2014

Tamil Surnames and Hypocrisy

Many Tamils will go berserk when we speak about surnames. This is because the surnames reflects the caste or clan. Most of the surnames we have are occupational surnames.

Each occupational surnames of the Tamil people has its own history and it is clan specific. This is mainly because those clans had their own hereditary occupation in the past. 

Take for example the surname Servai used in the Mukkulathor community. It refers to a person who's ancestors were Servaikarars (men who serve). These Servaikarars defended forts and worked inside the palaces. Some also served as royal bodyguards.

The Latin word for service is Servus. It is also used as a surname by Europeans who had the same function in the society as our own Servaikarars. Perhaps the Latin word Servus is a corruption of the Tamil word Servai or vice versa.

Are we Tamils the only ones who have occupational surnames?

Let's take a look at our very own modern Asian role models, the Japanese society and their surnames.

The Kaji were metal workers, the Inukai were dog breeders, the Akazome were dyers and the Hattori were weavers. The Wataribe or Watanabe were ferry service providers.

Japanese actor, Ken Watanabe
What about the European surnames?

The Bergers were shepherds, the Kellogg were animal slaughterers, Smith were metal workers, Schneider were tailors, Walkers shrunk woolen cloth, the Proctor collected tax and the Tyler made tiles.

Originally known as Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky, the Johnnie Walker brand is a legacy left by John "Johnnie" Walker after he started to sell whisky in his grocer's shop in Ayrshire, Scotland.

Not only does these European or Japanese surnames have occupational origins, the clans which used it also practiced endogamy in the past. Endogamy means they do not marry outside their clan and they keep their profession within the family. 

Isn't this similar to us Tamils and the rest of India? Our surnames too have occupational origins and our clans too practiced endogamy. Our ancestors too kept their profession within the family just like what the Europeans did in the past

India's billionaire, Shiv Nadar.
How different are these surnames from Tamil surnames like Asari (metal workers), Stapathi (stone masons and temple builders), Pattar (goldsmiths), Chettiar (merchants), Udayar (landlord), Padayachi (army man), Konar (shepherds), Kudumbar (Pallar village headman), Mudaliar (first ranked)?

I see no difference at all. Only the language used is different.

The Japanese and the European people do not live in denial of their heritage. But we are doing the exact opposite and we are still stuck in it.

We condemn our own race whenever we see Tamil people with these surnames. We also put the blame on Hinduism by claiming that it is a religion that promotes discrimination. 

Castes and occupational surnames are not a Hindu invention. Every society has its own clan divisions and its own list of surnames. Yet, we failed to realise that it is the same everywhere. 

We need to learn about other cultures and see the similarities with our own culture. Let's not live like a frog under the coconut shell.

(Picture taken from another blog)

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