Surname, the last name or the family name is different from your given or the first name. It is the name shared by the family. It usually is the identity of a person and can give a good idea of the family background, the religion, the cast and also the region of the country from which the person comes.
Take for example an Aggarwal, Gupta, Mittal, Jindal, Goel, Bansal or Kansal, would in all probability mean that the person is a Hindu, has his origin in North India, is a Baniya (trading community), usually a vegetarian, Hindi speaking, and invariably financially sound.
Likewise, Subramanium indicates a person originally from Tamil Nadu or Kerala and a Hindu Brahmin with personal name derived from Sanskrit subrahmaṇya ‘dear to Brahmins’ (an epithet of the god Kartikeya son of Shiva).
They are of Tamil origin and very intelligent and often scholars. Dr C Subramanium former minister for Planning and Deputy Chairman planning commission, Subramaniam Swamy Politician and Economist, Gopal Subramanium an eminent lawyer, former Attorney general of India and an internationally known arbitrator are just a few examples of this surname from the Southern part of India.
Close to Tamil Nadu is Andhra Pradesh and Telangana where Reddy is a common surname and mostly land owners are very powerful politically.
Banerjees, Mukherjee, Chatterjee, Bhattacharya and Gangulys are high caste Brahmins who trace their origin from the sage Shandilya of Ujjain an ancient city of Madhya Pradesh but now rooted in Bengal. Mamta Banerjee CM, West Bengal is the living example.
You can find innumerable such surnames in mainland India. This generalization, however, won’t work if you go to the Kashmir valley and try to predict the cast, profession or for that matter even the religion by studying their last name. It is hard to believe that in Kashmir surnames: Peer, Wali or Mirza are common Hindu surnames.
At the same time a Muslim carrying his last name as Rishi or Pandit sounds strange, but it is a common feature in Kashmir.
Unlike other parts of the country, Muslims and Hindus have been sharing the same surnames since ages. Wali is a name based on Arabic short form of Wali Allah ‘friend of God’, ‘protector’.
However, this surname is more common in Kashmiri Pundits than in Muslims. The former Chairman of J&K Public Service Commission, a devout Muslim is Mohammed Shafi Pandit, similarly one of the important former Director Generals of J & K police was Ghulam Jeelani Pandit, of course a Muslim but with Pandit as the surname. Likewise, Dr Maharaj Kishan Peer an eminent physician and Man Mohan Kishan Wali the LG of Delhi in 1984-85 and also former Prof Jyoti Prakash Wali of AIIMS.
Likewise, Mirza, Dhar or Dar, Bhat, Chakoo, Durrani, Kachru, Draboo, Kaloo, Kanna, Kaw, Khar, Khuda, Kitchloo, Munshi, Machama, Mirza, Padar, Parimoo and Raina are a few typical surnames that are used by both Hindus, and Muslims in Kashmir.
There is a set of surnames belonging to birds and animals, This defies any logical explanation: Examples: like Hangloo (Stag), Khar (Ass), Braroo (Cat), Kantroo (male sparrow), Kakroo (Cock), Kaw (Crow), Bambroo (blackbee), Kotru (Pigeon), Dand (Bull), Hoon (Dog), Yechh (Yeti), Kukiloo (Cuckoo in English)). Some well-known personalities like former Senior bureaucrat M K Kaw (Crow) or former Editor of the Statesman and at present a free-lance writer Mr M L Kotru (Pigeon).
Kashmiri surnames are also linked with the vegetables and fruits. We have quite a number of Mujoos (Radish), Bamchoots (Quince apple) Hakh (Green leafy vegetable), Wangnoo (Egg plant), Nadroos (Lotus stem). Some surnames based on the personalities and moods in families like Hakhoo (A person who is dry), and Trakroo (person who is unyielding or hard in attitude). These strange surnames are continuing till date.
Many of the present-day Kashmiri surnames are linked to the occupations of their ancestors. A few examples: Aram (vegetable grower), Kral (potter), Gooru (milk vendor), Hakim (physician), Waza (chef), Bazaz (Cloth Merchant) etc., are some of the surnames that tell you about the professions of the present or past generation of Kashmiris.
The surname of the author of this article is not Kaul, it is an adopted name from the actual surname Khan, which still exists in our revenue records of district Pulwama. Background being that our great grandfather worked as a munshi for Afghans. Kaul / Koul is a common Kashmiri surname but not exclusive to Pandits, there are several instances of it being used by Muslims. Prof Parvez A Koul the current Director of SKIMS is a classical example.
Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad has a case when he made a statement recently that all Kashmiris 600 years back were Hindus and many retained their surnames after conversion to Islam. The great Sheikh Abdullah the first prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir had his immediate ancestor Raghu Ram Koul, a Kashmiri Pundit. This he mentions with pride in his autobiography Atish-e-Chinar.
This mixed culture of Kashmiris depicted by their surnames needs to be retained and we need to look forward and not to view this relationship through a narrow prism.
Dr ( Prof) U Kaul, founder Director Gauri Kaul Foundation