Sri Lankan Portuguse names

Shared by Ariya

 

The Portuguese arrived in Ceylon, or Ceilão, as they called it, by chance. In 1505, a fleet commanded by Lourenço de Almeida—the son of Francisco de Almeida, the first viceroy of Portuguese India—was blown into Galle by adverse winds. It was thirteen years later, in 1518, that the Portuguese established formal contact with the Kingdom of Kotte, ruled by Vira Parakrama Bahu, and were permitted to build a fort in Colombo.

Although the Portuguese were primarily interested in exploring trade and commercial opportunities in Sri Lanka, an opening for greater exploitation presented itself in the form of seven warring kingdoms within the island. With time, the kingdom of Kotte began to depend heavily on the Portuguese for defense against the other kingdoms, leading to an  enhanced role for the Portuguese in Sri Lankan affairs.

An agreement in 1543 between King Buvenaka Bahu of the kingdom of Kotte and the Portuguese resulted in his grandson Prince Dharmapala being educated in the Franciscan order of the Roman Catholic Church. The conversion of Dharmapala heralded sweeping changes in Sri Lanka’s social landscape, as the Portuguese embarked on a mission to convert the local populace.

Sri Lankans in the western coastal areas were particularly susceptible to the changes, with conversions occurring en masse,  but conversions occurred interior and in the northernmost parts of the island as well. As Portuguese culture permeated the island, Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese took on many Portuguese names as their own, suffixed to their personal names.

 

A traditional Portuguese-Sri Lankan wedding in the Batticaloa area. Image courtesy natgeotourism.com

Here are a list of some of the more popular Portuguese-Sri Lankan surnames and what they mean:

Silva / de Silva

The surname ‘Silva’, and its derivative ‘de Silva’, meaning ‘from Silva’ or ‘of Silva’ is a popular Portuguese surname and means ‘forest’ or ‘woodland’. It is a wide-spread surname in Portuguese-speaking countries as well as regions formerly under the control of the Portuguese empire (like Sri Lanka, India, America, and Africa.) ‘Silva’ and ‘de Silva’ are very common surnames in Sri Lanka, but doesn’t necessarily mean the holder is of Portuguese descent—just that the holders ancestors subscribed to the cultural hegemony perpetuated by the Portuguese.

Fernando

The surname ‘Fernando’, although perpetuated in Sri Lanka by the Portuguese, is the old Spanish form of a Germanic name meaning ‘adventurous’ or ‘bold journey’. It is made up of the elements ‘fardi’, meaning ‘journey’, and ‘nand’ meaning ‘daring and brave’. In addition to being a popular name in Portugal, the name is common in Western India which was colonised by the Portuguese, and of course in Sri Lanka, where it is one of three most popular (the others being ‘de Silva’ and ‘Perera’) surnames taken on by Sinhalese.

Perera / Pereira

The surname ‘Perera’, and its variant ‘Pereira’ is derived from the Portuguese surname ‘Pereira’, meaning ‘pear tree’. Perera is a very common surname in Sri Lanka, taken on by Sinhalese converts to Roman Catholicism with the advancement of Portuguese rule in Sri Lanka. ‘Perera’ is also a Spanish name with a number of variants (Perer, Perero, Pereros, Pereyra, Pereyras, Das Pereiras, Paraira)  in the Iberian peninsula.

Almeida / de Almeida

‘Almeida’ and its variant ‘de Almeida’, meaning ‘of’ or ‘from’ Almeida is a Portuguese surname derived from the town of Almeida (in the Beira Alta province) in Portugal. Portuguese explorer Lourenço de Almeida who ‘discovered’ Sri Lanka, was the first of his kind to arrive in the island. In the subsequent decades, with the expansion of Portuguese powers in Sri Lanka, the surname ‘Almeida’ took on prominence with many Sinhalese and Tamil families taking on the name.

Costa / de Costa

‘Costa’ and its variant ‘de Costa’ meaning ‘from’ or ‘of’ Costa is a Portuguese surname derived from the Latin word ‘Costa’ which means ‘rib’. With time, the surname came to mean ‘side’, ‘slope’, or ‘coast’ denoting the holder was from the coastal area. The surname ‘Costa’ and ‘de Costa’ are also Italian and Spanish surnames. In Sri Lanka, the surname was adopted by many Sinhalese and Tamil families, with the adoption of Portuguese mores in Sri Lanka.

Fonseka

The surname ‘Fonseka’ is derived from the Portuguese surname ‘Fonseca’, which comes from the Latin ‘fōns siccus’, meaning ‘dry well’. It refers to a spring that has dried up during the hot summer months and is today a well-known Sinhalese surname in Sri Lanka.

Correa / Corea

The surname ‘Correa’ or ‘Corea’ is a derivative of the Portuguese word ‘correia’ meaning ‘leather strap’. The surname is of occupational origin, meaning the holder was originally a maker or seller of leather straps (or belts). The surname is popular in Portugal and in Spain and is adopted by Sri Lankan Tamil and Sinhalese families for further advancement under Portuguese rule.

Tissera

The surname ‘Tissera’ is derived from the Portuguese surname ‘Teixeira’  which refers to a ‘texio’ or ‘yew tree’. Variants ‘Texeira’ and ‘Técher’ are also common in Portugal. Although less common than the ‘Perera’, ‘de Silva’, and ‘Fernando’, ‘Tissera’ is today a well-known surname in Sri Lanka.

Cabral / Cabraal

The surname ‘Cabral’ and its variant ‘Cabraal’ are Portuguese and Galician surnames that are derived from the Latin word ‘capra’ meaning ‘goat’ or  ‘capralis’ which means ‘place of goats’. The surname is an occupational one, meaning the holder was engaged in work relating to the care of goats, possibly a goatherd. In Sri Lanka, the surname is has been adopted mainly by Sinhalese families.

Thabrew / de Abrew

The surname ‘Thabrew’ and its variant ‘de Abrew’ meaning ‘from Abrew’ or ‘of Abrew’ is a derivative of the Portuguese name ‘Abreu’. The origins of the name is debated; some argue that it is a reference to the phrase ‘Abraham the Hebrew’, while others claims it refers to a ancient branch of the House of Normandy.

There are countless other Sri Lankan names of Portuguese origin, like Peiris, Nonis, Gomes, Suwaris, Mendis,  Sigera, Pigera, and others. In addition to these surnames, Sri Lanka assimilated many of the Portuguese names for everyday items such as ‘kalisama’ (trousers), ‘kamisaya’ (shirt), ‘almariya’ (wardrobe), ‘bonikka’ (doll), ‘bottama’ (button) and so many more. In parts of the island, especially the north, a Portuguese creole is spoken by a small population of those of Portuguese descent. It is clear that the 153 years the Portuguese spent in Sri Lanka affected the cultural composition of the country, even to this date.

Cover: The Portuguese manner of dressing was adopted by the Ceylonese. Image courtesy sundaytimes.lk

Hi Ariya ..
With your permission

I thought this photo will  add colour to your post

Rani

IMG_0161

20 thoughts on “Sri Lankan Portuguse names

  1. Dear Ariya
    We are in the lounge in Prague on the last leg of our holiday started on the 1st of March . I am catching up on the blog and noticed that you have forgotten that de Saram D Souza are also of Portuguese origin.I have a lot of blog news to go through and will phone you when I go home.

    Deepthie we returned home just for a day and took the flight to Prague the following day as we had booked to go to Infant Jesus church in Prague. Now we are in the lounge waiting for our flight home to U.K. .Thanks🙏 for your email and I will write at length when I go home 🏠 cheers . Praxy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Praxy,
      Even if I forget,
      Surname, Samaratunga,,
      How can I forget De Saram,
      the name of good friend Ranjit!
      He befriended this Narigama kolla
      From the moment when our eyes met
      I had lunch at Aquinas canteen
      Thanks to him during the rag fortnight
      Ariya

      Liked by 1 person

    • Praxy- YOU are THE Bionic Woman !!

      — Wow — return from a trip half way across the world, spend one night at home and set out again where as
      I would have died of exhaustion and jet lag !
      No wonder you are a good Globe Trotter !
      Hope you prayed for ALL of us while in that special place in Prague .
      eagleD– missed all your fun digital art on the web, and glad to have you back !

      Like

      • Dear 🦅D
        Of course all my friends and even enemies were included in my prayers . I think 🤔 when God created me He would have known that I would be globe trotting so He took the words Jet lag out of my genes. I have never ever felt jet lag which indeed is a blessing.Once when Tania was in HongKong and Joe in Oz we flew to HK and returned to Manchester and we did not leave the airport and took the next flight to Perth after three hours at the airport.Praxy

        Like

  2. Thanks Ariya for the explanation of origins of some of our popular names.I have two very close friends both are Fonsekas but one is a Roman Catholic and the other a Genuine practising Buddhist..They are both super human beings.Names,race and religion does not matter. At the end of the day, in the words of Martin Luther King, we should not be judged by the colour of our skin or race or name but by the strength of our character.If this can be inculcated into the minds of our people, we will be a truly blessed land.Hope springs eternal and I am hopeful that we can do just that.Warm Regards to all. Eddie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Eddie, as always your comments are erudite and provoking thoughts
      There’s a fab group of Sri Lankan’s in harmony of all races, religions and clans
      These distinguished mates had excelled equally at home and across the oceans
      The unity of purpose of the ‘64 entry batch and their fillial love are fine examples
      Ariya

      Like

  3. Thanks Eddie,

    No one choses one’s religion
    As parents come before one is born
    Most stick to the inherited religion
    And all religions do mean good

    There is so much common ground
    Among the great religions of the world
    Than the suttle differences
    For his selfishness, man had inserted

    You are absolutely correct it is not the name
    Or religion that makes a brute or a saint
    It is how each of us use the teaching
    To make ourselves disciplined
    Ariya

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Narme, while my name came from Portuguese
      Yours ‘unbeatable-lion’ a pure Sinhala powerful royal name,
      It is great, through the web got an opportunity & a pathway
      To ponder down our memory lane, Sam has offered a way

      Like

  4. Thanks Ariya for the Purutugese Lesson !

    Very interesting analysis of names .

    According to the history book we studied in grade 6, the first Portugese to land in Ceylon was supposed to be Vasco De Gama .

    Any way- it does not matter- we are all the same people- once the skin is peeled off, we all have the same anatomy, just that some think differently !

    In one of my comments on a post– with baila dancing or something like that, I did mention my Portugese Ancestry — from my father’s side- his grandfather was supposed to be a Portugese who married a local lady from Tudella- Jaela- Seeduwa area and took on the name of the Pear Tree !

    Later my grandfather and his brother added on ‘ Seneviratne ‘ to practice their trade ( Notary- my grandfather and Apothecary- his brother ) in predominantly Buddhist area- Matara .
    Dostara Bappa- as my father called his uncle, however practiced his trade in Seeduwa and was quite the legendary character – that our good Lakshman Senanayake from Seeduwa can tell you all about it !
    So , half my relatives are The Pear Tree living in Seeduwa area, and half are Seneviratne .

    One half of my family brown eyes, light skin and light colored hair, the other half has black eyes , darker skin , and dark hair like my self .
    Actually , if you look closely my eyes are brown !

    By the way– this is where I inherited the Baila Kumari skills !!
    – ” Baila ” was a traditional group dance in Portugal ! and I believe it is a Portugese word as ” Ballet ” in French .
    eagled.

    Like

    • My dear ‘දිලිසෙන තරැව’

      Thank you my adored sibling for you comments
      I am stuck being prohibited from adding names
      ‘ඉතිහාස චක්‍රවර්ති’ for knowledge, like to call
      For depth of details you know and able to recall

      Ariya

      Like

  5. Rani– loved your addition to this Portugese names post– as it triggered a little memory chip in my head .

    My Matara Grandmother Cecila ( father’s mother ) used to dress like this — the cloth and the blouse done like this, with beeraly lace trimmed neckline, below the elbow sleeves lined with Beeralu lace .

    She Never wore a sari- always wore the most lovely redda and ornately done blouses , with gold buttons — ‘ratharan bottam “.= as she used to call them and it was my job to help her get the ratharan bottam into the right slot, with my small fingers, when I used to spend many school holidays at Matara as young child .
    Someone stole her gold buttons in later life !

    However , I do have very lovely photo of her, in my home, dressed in all her glory , just like your pictures above , taken taken at a photo studio at Matara, in about 1951 .

    My Seeya- wore the ‘Tweed Redda’ , big belt, nice dress shirt and coat with the navi panawa on the head — and again, I have a great photo of him at home dressed like this .
    He NEVER wore trousers — always the Tweed Redda.
    People in Matara called him ” Ralahamy ” and my grandmother “Haminey “, and they went about in a special Karattey – leather lined, polished brass trimmings , decorated bull moving along at a leisurely pace on the pot holed streets of Matara back in the day !
    Pity that no one took a photo of that kind of special karattey .

    Thanks Rani for this little trip down to my childhood Matara Days !

    eagleD.

    P. S. — These kinds of clothes were really well displayed in the old movie from the 60’s – Gam Pereliaya- with Punya Heendeniya, Shanthi Lekha and others , dressed like this – very lovely .
    The Men wore the clothes like in the picture you sent .

    Like

  6. Dear Rani

    Pictures of ladies in Portuguese attires you added are wonderful
    Remind me dress code of women in my village when I was small
    I have a DVD of ‘ Gamperaliya’ and Deepthie is absolutely correct
    As we remember those clothes we fall into ‘the old people’ bracket

    Ariya

    Like

  7. A glimpse to the Chronological evolution of my Surname

    Née Gooneratne—– Fernando-(Portuguese) — Goonewardene

    CHANGED TO MY MOTHERINLAWS SURNAME AFTER MUTUAL CONSENT

    Like

    • Thanks Simone, for that bit of personal history
      How one leads to another & we get educated
      Most coastal dwellers, had Portuguese names
      Dropped on the way by successive generations

      As far as the story goes many added a surname
      Keeping the ‘ge – name, like mine, Pinnaduwage
      May be the reason Sri Lankan names are so long
      Thus most coastal dwellers had an extra surname

      Ariya

      Like

  8. Dear Dr Ariyaratne Forrest,
    you have researched well. Looks like Almeidas came to Ceylon before de Silvas!!!
    Just like you missed de Sarams, you forgot about the late comer: de Seelan

    Like

    • My dear Seelan,

      In my old age with failing neurones and poor eye sight

      Agree with you my sharpness gone & tend to miss a lot

      Yet I can assure you, De Seelan, is not an invader but our own

      Beautiful Sri Lankan name, conceived in the Northern Province

      Ariya

      Like

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