Why Tamils don’t have Surnames?

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Did you know Viswanathan Anand’s name is combination of his father and his name.
Father’s name: Viswanathan
Person’s actual name: Anand

Makes us wonder why people in Tamil Nadu don’t have surnames.

In the ancient times, it is quite likely that most Indians didn’t use surnames. Lord Ram was not Ram Kshatriya or Ram Singh and Krishna was not Krishna Yadav. Look at the various characters of Ramayana, Mahabharata and other ancient literature. My hypothesis is that clan names came much later than these epics.

At some point in the last 2000 years, caste based surnames slowly became mainstream and by the turn of the 20th century, most Indians, including some Tamils had the surnames. The need to follow the pan-Indian culture probably resulted in surnames like – Iyer, Iyengar, Thevar, Pillai, Chettiyar, Mudhaliyar, Nadar, Moopanar etc.

However, even many in the upper class refused to use surnames during the freedom movement [way before the Dravidian movements]. Famous men like CV Raman, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Rajaji, C Subramaniam, Chinnaswami Subramania Bharathi, Subramaniya Siva had no caste surnames. As the freedom movement got steam, these noted men thought the caste names prevented social movement.

Since independence, even further momentum was given in this direction by the Dravidian parties and in the 1990s the ruling DMK even asked to remove all caste based surnames from street names. Thus, if a street was originally named Ranganatha Mudhali street, it would have been renamed as Ranganatha street.

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