What’s Your Name?

Searching for records of ancestors can be quite a challenge, especially when you eventually hit an apparent brick wall. There are many resources available to assist with this search. Once discovered, the surnames of each ancestor give a clue to their country of origin, such as John Pereira, Portugal.

Or so we think.

It is apparent reading the archives in the British Library and wading through the literature on Anglo-Indians and British India more generally, that the surname of an individual may in fact have nothing to do with their country of origin. For example, not everyone bearing a Portuguese surname, such as Pereira or De Silva, is a Luso-Indian (the offspring of mixed marriages between the Portuguese and Indians). They could be Mangalorean or (descendents of) converts to Roman Catholicism, or Protestant.


To complicate matters further, there are many examples of Anglicised names masking original European roots. Furthermore, it was not unknown for a man with a non-British surname to take his wife’s British name, meaning that the British surname would then be passed down the male line. It is believed many men changed their names to boost their employment chances under the Portuguese or British rule in India.

Not everyone will have changed their names, but it may prove difficult to determine the actual country of origin of individuals when researching family in India. 

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