Maldives Minicoy Mahl Dhivehi
Sri Lankan Naming Conventions

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Ayubowan: Sri Lankan welcomeThe traditional Maldive naming convention seems to be remarkably similar to the Sri Lankan Sinhala naming convention. As a result of contact with other Sri Lankan peoples and various Indian ethnicities such as Chola and Bengali, what Maldivians now have as a naming system can best be described as lacking in convention.

The Maldive Personal Name: A generation ago, most people were not commonly known by their birth names. Instead they were called by an alternative name such as Dohuttu, Lahuttu, Tutteedi, Kudamaniku, or Don Goma.| details |

The Maldive Surname: Maldivians have always been mystified by the surname. There is an array of reasons for this.

Firstly, the Maldivian word for surname, vanan, is the same as that for nickname. Evidently the prophet Mohamed frowned upon nicknames, or so many Islamic scholars taught in the Maldives. Consequently it was believed that surnames were sinful. |
 Details |

This article outlines the naming conventions of Sri Lankan ethnicities:

Sinhala: The Singala community usually have two or three types of names. The first is called the ge (Sinhala for house or clan, pronounced "gay") or family name while the second is the personal name of the individual. There could be more than one personal name. The third is the surname. Urbanised Sinhala these days invariably have a surname. There are still many rural Sinhala who have just the prefixed ge name and one or more personal names.

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 the ge name was adopted.

Ancient sculpture: Sri Lanka

When Antu and I briefly lived in the Maldives we had a Sinhala housemaid who was called Pathirannahelage Piyaseeli. This indicates that Piyaseeli was from the house of Pathirannahe. A connecting -la was usually added between this and the suffix -ge. Piyaseeli did not have a surname. I once worked with a Sinhala man called Kaluhandhilage Hemachandra Silva. In this case Hemachandra had the surname Silva.

Unfortunate meanings

The traditional Maldive name of Huttu or Hutthu, a variant of Tuttu causes some embarrassing confusion in Sri Lanka. The name has an unfortunate meaning in Sinhala related to female private parts.

Police names: Gunasekara was a Sri Lankan policeman seconded to train the Maldive police force in the 1950s. After a spell in Malé, Gunasekara returned home for a holiday. To his wife's horror, Gunasekara's usually colourful vocabulary had become even louder, bolder and filthier since his return. Mrs Gunasekara finally asked her husband what was going on. Gunasekara told his wife he was simply practising the names of Maldive policemen in case he forgot.

Harassed nurses: Like many Maldivians who travel to Sri Lanka seeking medical treatment, Kaasilabbage Kaluhutthu turned up at a Colombo hospital and was asked by the nurses what his name was. Kaluhutthu said his full name and the nurses refused to attend to him thinking he was a pervert out to harass them.

The prefixed ge name is carried down through all descendants irrespective of whether they are male or female. Sinhala women usually adopt the surname of the husband after marriage but keep their prefixed family or ge name intact.

This naming format is remarkably similar to the traditional Maldive format in which there was an actual person called Kaasilabbage Kaluhutthu

The seemingly indispensable house names (usually ending with -ge) as part of a person's identity in the Maldives of today may be related to this naming heritage.

Tamil: Sri Lankan Tamils usually use two names, the first representing their father's name and the second representing their own. E.g.: Mahadhevan Muththusaamy indicates that the individual's name is Muththusaamy and he is the son of Mahadhevan. The daughter of Mahadhevan Muththusaamy would then become Muththusaamy Kamalaraani, where the daughter's name is Kamalaraani and is prefixed by the name of her father. Men and women use the same naming structure but women sometimes adopt the husband's name after marriage.

Some Maldivians have this types of names too. E.g.: Donumaru Tuttuhokko where Tuttuhokko was the son of Donumaru.

Moors: Known to Maldivians as Soalhiyaa, Moors who are Sri Lankan Muslims of mainly Arab origin, have multiple methods of naming. Rural Moors use their father's 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.

Culturally the Moors are very similar to the mainly Hindu Tamils.

Moorish family
A group of Sri Lankan Moors circa late 19th Century: From left: Ahmed Lebbe Marikar Alim Abdul Majeed, "Cheque Book" Mohamed Ismail, Wappu Marikar Abdul Jabbar, Mohamed Lebbe Marikar Hajiar Mohamed Shareef (source: Fazli Sameer's photo album). Women are highly segregated in this conservative Arab-loving society and would not appear in the same photo as men.

Maldive businessmen copied these modes of dress in the early 20th Century. This photo could easily pass as that of a middle-class Maldive group of the time.

Both the personal name and the father's name may have a host of titles prefixed to them. For instance Slema Lebbe Marikar has a son called Sinna Lebbe Achchi Marikar. The son would be called Slema Lebbe Marikar Sinna Lebbe Achchi Marikar. Here Lebbe (Islamic priest) Achchi (one who has performed the haj pilgrimage) and Marikar (trading agent) are titles. Nevertheless they are considered part of the name. The British colonial administrators had immense difficulty with this system and often called Moors by the address of their businesses (E.g.: Number Forty Two Old Moor Street). Slema and Sinna are localised forms of the Arabicised Jewish name Sulaiman and the Arabic name Hassan respectively.

The names Mohamed or Ahmed are commonly used across the board as first names for male Moors while the names Fathima or Sithy or Ummu or Noor are used for females. Moors have a tendency to give more than one name for their offspring. This usually arises from the fact that leading members of both spouses' families take part in contributing these names. Modern Moors living in urban centres, have adopted the use of the surname as is used here in the West.

Temple of Buddha's tooth relic, Kandy: Sri Lanka

Some Moors from areas that were within the dominions of the Kandy kings until Kandy was annexed by the British in 1815 still use the Sinhala -ge naming convention.

Malays: Sri Lankan Malays who are mainly Muslim but not Moorish usually have Western-style surnames. However they have a tendency to use the prefix Tuan for males and Gnei for females as a standard similar to the Mohamed and Fathima of the Moors.

Following the pre-Islamic Pagan Arab convention, Islam does not encourage the giving up of the family name by women after marriage. However most Malay and even Moorish women have adopted the Western convention of taking their husband's name.

Burgher: Burghers are essentially Christian descendants of Portuguese, Dutch and British who intermarried with the local Sinhala, Tamil or Moors. They conform to the Western convention of naming where the surname is carried down the line. As in the West, Burghers may have more than one personal name. Women, adopt the surname of the husband after marriage.

Christians: Sri Lankan Christians who are mostly descended from converts from Sinhala Buddhists, Muslim Moors and Tamil Hindus are not usually regarded as a separate ethnicity. They are more likely to adopt the Western naming convention keeping their surnames running down the lineage. However, some of them may still carry their prefixed -ge names, if they are Sinhala. Some Tamil Christians still maintain the Tamil convention of keeping their father's name as a prefix.

The Moorish converts are not accepted as Moors by other Moors once they have converted and are usually regarded as Tamils. The Muslim Moors are very insular and would ostracise their female family members if they marry outside an arranged marriage even to another Moor.

National Anthem of Sri Lanka
Namo Namo Matha: We worship thee O Mother

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Plenteous in prosperity,
Thou, Beauteous in grace and love,
Laden with corn and luscious fruit
And fragrant flowers of radiant hue,
Giver of life and all good things,
Our land of joy and victory,
Receive our grateful praise sublime, Lanka! we worship Thee.

Thou gavest us Knowledge and Truth,
Thou art our strength and inward faith,
Our light divine and sentient being,
Breath of life and liberation.
Grant us, bondage free, inspiration.
Inspire us for ever.
In wisdom and strength renewed,
Ill-will, hatred, strife all ended,
In love enfolded, a mighty nation
Marching onward, all as one,
Lead us, Mother, to fullest freedom.


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