Decoding the Surname 

By Prajal Sakhardande

Goan surnames have a deep-rooted history. Following conversions, the Hindus and 
Muslims of Goa acquired new Portuguese surnames. Many of the Christian families 
in Goa have traced their original Hindu surnames. Many have shown keen interest 
in finding their roots in their Hindu ancestry. It is very interesting. For 
example, my colleague and teacher Dr Zinia Sequeira Lobo D’Silva has traced 
her original Hindu surname to Kamat. In the year 1596, the Dangui family of 
Banavlim or Benaulim village of the Salcette taluka were converted to 
Christianity and were given a new surname - Pereira.

Mention is made of the son of Mhallu Dangui who was converted to Antonio 
Pereira. A senior friend of mine from Benaulim goes by the same name and traces 
his Hindu ancestry to the surname Dangui. Some Portuguese surnames of Goans 
have very interesting etymologies for example the surname Coelho means a rabbit 
in Portuguese. The surname Pimenta is pepper (chilly), Pinheiro is pine tree in 
Portuguese and Pinho is pine.

The very popular Portuguese Goan surname Pinto means chick while Oliveira means 
olive tree. In Portuguese the surname Alemao means German. Costa simply means 
Coast. The surname Lobo means a wolf in Portuguese, Leitao means suckling 
pigling, Caldeira means boiler, the surname Carvalho means an Oak tree. Velho 
stands for old man or old woman. Sardinha stands for Sardine.

The surname Rocha means a rock. Topography, flora and fauna seem to be 
reflected in these surnames. In Goa too we have surnames depicting nature, for 
example we have surnames like Ambe (mango), Sakhardande (sugarcane), Kande 
(onions), Bhende (ladyfingers) amongst others.

Coming back to the Portuguese Goan surnames, Mesquita means a mosque. This 
surname might have etymological roots in the Arab connection with the Iberian 
Peninsula of which Spain and Portugal are a part. For example in Konkani we 
address the Muslims as “Moir” corrupted version of the word “Moor” 
which stands for Arabs as the Portuguese addressed them. We adopted this word 
in Konkani for the Goan Muslims.

Due to the Arab rule over Portugal, Arabic words such as Kameez for a shirt was 
adopted and corrupted to Khomis in Portuguese which was also introduced in 
Konkani is one side of the story of linguistic exchange.
These are very interesting historical linguistic exchanges whose etymological 
roots are deeply rooted in the political and socio-cultural heritage of the 
nations and peoples. Thus the travel or journey of a simple Arabic word Kameez 
or the Portuguese word Camisa which means shirt might have had the more 
plausible vice-versa exchange as the Arabs never wore a shirt which the 
Portuguese wore and when the Arabs conquered the Iberian peninsula and ruled 
Spain and Portugal they borrowed this word Camisa from the Portuguese and 
adopted it for their famous dress Salwar Kameez. Thus we find that etymology is 
the key to history.

In the coming weeks let us dig deep into the history of Goan surnames, 
linguistic exchanges and cultural inheritance.

Source: NT

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