Sri Lanka Personal Names

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Understanding customs used in surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.

Online Tools[edit | edit source]

Sinhalese constitute the largest ethnic group in the country, with 74.8% of the total population. Sri Lankan Tamils are the second major ethnic group in the island, with a percentage of 11.2%. [1]

Sinhalese[edit | edit source]

  • The common order of names in Sinhalese:
house/clan name + personal name(s) [+ family name]
e.g. Kaluhandhilage Hemachandra SILVA
  • The Sinhalese house/clan name ends in GE, e.g. Kaluhandhilage:
  • GE is often connected to the name of the house/clan by the word LA, so the name will frequently end in LAGE
  • the GE name is passed down between generations of a family, regardless of gender
  • the GE name is often abbreviated to an initial
  • the GE name could be omitted altogether, which is an increasingly common practice among the younger urbanised Sinhalese generation.
  • Most of the urbanised Sinhalese population will have an additional family name. It is less common in the names of rural inhabitants who may simply use the prefixed GE name and one or more personal names, e.g. Pathirannahelage Piyaseeli.[2]

For example, Kaluhandhilage Hemachandra SILVA would be Hemachandra from the house (GE) of Kaluhandhi and of the family SILVA. He could also be known as:

a. K. Hemachandra SILVA (GE name initialled);
b. K. Hemachandra (GE name initialled, no family name);
c. Hemachandra SILVA (GE name omitted).

  • Sinhalese women typically adopt the family surname of their husband upon marriage but retain their GE name:

e.g. if Pathirannahelage Piyaseeli married Kaluhandhilage Hemachandra SILVA, she would become Pathirannahelage Piyaseeli SILVA.

  • Children typically adopt their father’s house/clan name and family name.

Unique characteristics[edit | edit source]

  • The following naming practices should also be noted:
a. some common Sinhalese family names are derived from Portuguese family names, due to past Portuguese colonisation: e.g. SILVA, FERNANDO, PEREIRA;
b. other family names are derived from Sinhalese: e.g. AMARASINGHE, TENNEKOON;
c. common beginnings to Sinhalese family names include:
d. common endings to Sinhalese family names include:
e. another common element of Sinhalese names is WEERA, either at the beginning or end of a name: e.g. WEERARATNE, SAMARAWEERA.
f. some Sinhalese names can be used as both a family name and a personal name.[2]

Tamil[edit | edit source]

  • The common order of names in Tamil:
father’s personal name + personal name
e.g. Alagaratnam Rasiah (male) (no family name)
  • Tamil names traditionally have no family name.
  • Both men and women adopt their father’s name in front of their own personal name. Tamils often use only the first letter of their father’s name as an initial and then their own personal name in full: e.g. Alagaratnam Rasiah may be known as A. Rasiah.
  • Tamils living in Western society may use their father’s personal name as a family name and reverse the name order: e.g. Rasiah Alagaratnam.
  • A woman traditionally adopts her husband’s personal name upon marriage in place of her father’s personal name:

e.g. if Muththusaamy Kamalaraani marries Alagaratnam Rasiah she may be known as Rasiah Kamalaraani or R. Kamalaraani.

  • Both sons and daughters are named according to the typical components above:
e.g. a son of Alagaratnam Rasiah could be Rasiah Sinnadorai, or R. Sinnadorai;
e.g. a daughter of Alagaratnam Rasiah could be Rasiah Laxmi, or R. Laxmi.[2]

Unique Characteristics[edit | edit source]

  • The following naming practices should also be noted:
a. nicknames are often used in place of personal names, especially within families. Nicknames may appear to have no correspondence with the givename, e.g. a nickname for Krishnakanthan may be Babu, or for Gnanaseeli it may be Jaya;
b. common elements of Tamil names include:
Alaga- / Alagu- / Alage- e.g. Alagappan / Alagumuthi
Anbu- e.g. Anbuselvan
Ari- e.g. Arivumani
Arul- e.g. Arulmoli
Bala- e.g. Balakumar
Gnana- e.g. Gnanamani
Siva- e.g. Sivadasan
Ula- e.g. Ulaganathan[2]

Regional Variations[edit | edit source]

  • In some regions of Southern India and Sri Lanka a place name (of a town or village of ancestral origin) may be used in addition to the father’s personal name:
place name + father’s personal name + personal name[2]

Foreign Origin Names[edit | edit source]

The Portuguese and Dutch being in Sri Lanka has left a legacy where many Sinhalese people converted religion or took on foreign names through intermarriage or adoption.[3] Portuguese

Almeida/de Almeida
Costa/de Costa
De Alwis, derived from the surname ‘Alves’
Mendis, derived from the surname ‘Mendes’

Nonis, derived from the surname ‘Nunes’
Peiris, derived from the surname ‘Peres’
Pigera from the surname 'Figueira'
Sigera, derived from the surname ‘Siqueira’
Silva/de Silva
Suwaris from the surname 'Soares'
Thabrew/de Abrew, derived from the surname ‘Abreu’
Tissera, derived from the surname ‘Teixeira’

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Sri Lanka", in Wikipedia,, accessed 13 March 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 A GUIDE TO NAMES AND NAMING PRACTICES, UK Names Guide
  3. "Sinhalese name", in Wikipedia,, accessed 13 March 2021.