First Name, Last Name, Surname, Middle Name, Other Name, Given Name, and Nick Name

Most people know me as Yathi Yatheepan. They think my first name is Yathi and the last name is Yatheepan. In the official records, my name is Vivekananthan Yatheepan. Then you may wonder “where does this Yathi come from?” It is a shorten form of my Last name Yatheepan. Sounds strange!!! Yathi is my “Nick Name”. Then why don’t I use Vivekananthan as my first name or a shorten form of that as a Nick name? I am going to answer all these questions to my best to clarify this confusion.

I grew up in Sri Lanka. My race is Tamil. In the Tamil community, there are no first names and last names. We just have a single name. My single name is Yatheepan. My birth certificate shows just that single name. In my home town, people call me “Yathi”. When I applied for a passport, I needed a first name and a last name. I believe that the passport naming convention is based on some international standards. So I picked my father’s name as my first name. Actually, Vivekananthan is my father’s single name. It has no association with me other than it is my father’s name. It is no wonder why I don’t go by the long name Vivekananthan.

Let us look at this situation. I have two brothers. One day an average Joe meet my brothers and me and asked our names. After hearing our names, Joe might collapse right away. We three have the same first name and different last names.

The other race who lives in Sri Lanka is Sinhalese. In the Sinhalese community, each person gets several first names and a last name. Last name is referred as Surname or Family Name and the first names are referred as Given Names over there.


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Thananjayan Bhakeerathan on March 28, 2011 at 10:29 AM

    As you said every thing was right, but in our family we picked our dad’s single name as our last name, example my single name is Thananjayan and my last name is Bhakeerathan. same thing with my sister Ayswarya Bhakeerathan (last name Bhakeerathan) and my mom ofcourse her last name is Bhakeerathan too.


  2. Thanks Thananjayan for the comment. For the time being, it is good that you picked your single name as your first name. But just look how your father and Dr. Siddharthan have their names. They both have the same official first name and different Last name.

    The complication doesn’t stop there. You are a young man(old boy). You will face another headache when you get married, if you plan to get married in Sri Lanka.I am writing another post about it and will post it tomorrow.


  3. Posted by Vignam on April 8, 2011 at 4:24 AM


    This is not only a problem for Sri Lankan Tamils, but also a troublesome for South Indian people. As you mentioned in your post, Tamils do not maintain a consistent Last name (eqv. Surname). It would be alright until they travel abroad for their purposes.

    First name refers to a “specific name” of an individual. It is the one and only one name differentiates the individual from their family members. Also known as “Given Name”. The name that is given to *YOU* is the first name.

    Last name (eqv Surname, Family Name) is a common name for the whole family members. The family hierarchy is explicitly visible from the last name. The last name could be a place, profession, etc. In Sri Lankan Sinhalese some name like “Kahawatta” or “Ranathunga” refers to an individual born in the tree. All members of the family have at least one given/first name plus their surname (eqv. Family Name).

    I think, earlier in Tamil society the cast carried a class of surname such as “Muthaliyar”, “Pillai” but the importance of that system is dropped. Better alternatives are “a well known family member’s name” or “long term residence name”.

    Interestingly, the family hierarchy is at least remembered once at the 31st day ceremony of an individual who passed away. In the note book they publish for that ceremony, they address “so and so” is from “this Marapu”.

    I read my fathers 31st day book it was mentioned that “Maappana Muthaliyar Marapu” and I have no idea about the gentleman “Muthaliyar” at that very young age.

    There is an interesting article about naming convention in Tamil society, by Sachi could be reached by

    Good to see your writeup. Keep up the good work.



  4. Thanks Vikki for the detailed information on our names. I was surprised that some people attach their home town’s names with them. I am not sure that they have their official name in such way. I thnik Ka. Si. Ananthan’s birth certificate name woule probably be only Sivananthan.


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