Parsi Surnames – a humorous look
While most surnames in India reflect caste and lineage, the Parsis had a delightfully modern streak — having landed without caste, history and context, they created identities through professions and urban streets.
Our family moved to Bombay (now Mumbai) from Rawalpindi in 1947. We came as refugees but the family soon settled and by 1953 my father had restarted playing golf at the Willingdon Club. I was eight years old and would walk 18 holes with him every Saturday and Sunday.
The three Parsi gentlemen who made up his regular four-ball were uncles Poonawala, Coorlawala and Colabawala. Very soon they had rechristened my father Pindiwala.
Uncle Colabawala did not live in Colaba but in a penthouse on Malabar Hill. May be his ancestors had lived in Colaba.
I used to spend hours searching the telephone directory to find Parsi surnames and stories around their families.
There was prohibition in Bombay those days. So to get liquor you had to find Mr Dalal, who would introduce you to Mr Daruwala, who in turn would get bottles delivered to your home by Mr Batliwala who would be accompanied by
Mr Sodawaterbottleopenerwalla (the longest Parsi surname I have come across).
Other surnames whose ancestors were in the beverages trade were: Mr Fountainwala, Mr Ginwala, Mr Rumwala, Mr Sodawala and Mr Jaamwala.
We used to have two delightful Siamese kittens in our flat and these were gifted to my mother by her friend Mrs Billimoria. My mother spent hours knitting cardigans for them, with wool she bought from the Unwala family.
My uncle ran the air force canteen in Cotton Green and his partner, yes you guessed it, was Mr Canteenwala. They had this fantastic cook, Mr Bhajiwala.
Their mild and meek manager, Mr Jeejeebhoy, nodded his head and agreed with everything everybody said.
My grandfather was the Sheriff of Bombay. I think the first and only Parsi to hold this position. Being Sheriff it was only natural that he had Mr Bandookwala and Mr Golimarwala as his constant companions.
Grandfather had many Parsi friends who were in politics. There was this squeaky clean khadi-clad Mr Ghandy, and the not so clean Mr Kalaghandy —
My grandfather built Hotel Waldorf on Arthur Bunder Road in Colaba. So for this he naturally used the services of Mr Contactor and Mr Mistry. Yet… He never went to the conservative moneylenders when short of money, but borrowed it from his Parsi friend Mr Readymoney.
Our neighbour and family physician was Dr Adi Doctor — he was only half a doctor. He lived withh his in laws Mr and Mrs Pochkhanawala. My sister swears they ate only poached eggs for breakfast.
I remember going to Dr Doctor’s sister’s wedding. She married one Mr Screwala. What he did for a living, I do not know to this day.
–. Cyrus Broacha Comediwalla
COMEDYWHALLAH, WILL YOU ABLE TO MAKE A LIST OF PARSI surnames ON COMPUTER. AND U CAN THEN CALL YOUR HONOUR as …..computerwalla
Your surname/first name should be “fenkoodas”………..your grandfather certainly wasn’t the only parsi sheriff of Bombay; my good friend (late) Mrs. Mithan Lam was one I’m sure of, whether before or after your grandfather (if he ever was a sheriff), I do not know.
Thank you. This is great entertainment and history making
Great loves it. We had a lecturer called Engineer and she was Ph. D so it was like today’s Biochem lecture will be from Dr. Engineer.
THIS IS NOT HOW IT GOES. IN BEGINNING OF 19TH CENTURY THE BRITISH WANTED EVERYONE TO HAVE A SURNAME AND THAT,S IT.. READ IT ON WEB, THIS IS NOT MY COMEDY.
Ganjawalla should be included ! He got busy around Shivarathri !
You cannot beat my surname. As per my ancestors it was a title given to them by the peshwas for taking care of the treasury of the peshwa empire.
Adil Jehangir Bajirao
This is so intriguing to me as my family name is colabawala as they were from colaba. Can you tell me the name of the colabawalas you are referencing as I would love to know. If possible please email me on email@example.com
Cyrus, (we met outside Cafe Picadilly about 20 years ago, you were with Kunal and you had appreciated my sense of humour, remarking that I coudl hav been a VJ if I was 10 years younger)
The general trend for naming in India, (or for that matter) is from place or profession. eg. in Marathis we have the names Lohar, Kumbhar, Sutar, Mantri, Gavai. Mistry means artisan. Or geographic features.For example, my surname is Temkar, shortened from Tembhkar (tembh means hillock, so the guys who live on the hillock.) Also village or town names Pen (from Pen) Nagpurkar(obvious). Colaba and Coorlawala(Kurla) are also village names. There ARE some names based on cast and lineage such as such as Bhat, Kshatriya and Raja.
So all in all, it seems that the Parsis, true to their original pledge, given by them to Jaadi Rana (one more surname by lineag)e, assimilated like “sugar in milk” and this included their surnames.
I will like to present an another facts on Last names used by some Indians! Sikh religion insist that all Sikh men and women should considered them self equal, and no one should feel higher himself then other one. A person with last name as Chaturvedi (master of four Vedas) should not feel superior himself than a Trivedi (master of three Vedas), In some cases a last name also revels cast of a person, some upper cast Hindus don’t feel comfortable to eat food in same lunger with lower cast, keeping this in mind Shikhs were required to give up their last names and use Singh and Kuar to make them all equal. In 1909 British Government asked Indian Job applicants to identify themselves using three names (First, Middle, & Last) in their job applications. In those days most Parsi were educated and they were working in Banks and other Gov departments, they have to come up over night with last names, so they made up last names using different logics! Educated Sikh army officers and police officers also made up last names but farmers or labor class Indians living in Punjab still don’t have proper last names and I have seen my selves their passports without proper last names! This is also true for most Muslims! some time Husbands and wife pass ports will have different last names! In USA the most popular last name is Patel !!!