Naming matters – Indian surnames starting with A and their meanings

Naming matters is a series of explorations that looks at the stories and meanings behind popular Indian names and surnames. Every episode will dig into a fresh batch and give us something to chew on. In this, our first instalment, we kick things off with popular Indian surnames that begin with the letter A.

Naming matters is a series of explorations that looks at the stories and meanings behind popular Indian names and surnames. Every episode will dig into a fresh batch and give us something to chew on. In this, our first instalment, we kick things off with popular Indian surnames that begin with the letter A.


SURNAME
MEANING

Abbott
This is a title given to the superior of a monastery.

Abid
literally meaning worshipper, adorer, devout.

Abraham
This name may be viewed either as ‘father of many’ in Hebrew or else as a contraction of ABRAM, ‘many, multitude’.

Acharya
From Sanskrit, means ‘one who knows or teaches (right) conduct’, i.e. a spiritual guide or teacher. The term was also applied as an honorific title for a man of learning.

Adhikari
Literally, means rightful or qualified. Hence, the title ‘adhikari’ given to priests and to officers. This title led to the surname Adhikari.

Adiga
Adige means cooking in Kannada. Adigas are a community of people who were cooks in temples. Adiga is a surname associated with people of that community.

Advani
Studies reveal that ‘Yani’ or ‘Yan’ (Suffix) are Sanskrit words, which mean – ‘descendants’ and the same were pronounced in Sindhi as ‘ANI’. The ‘Advani’ surname has originated from the name of Diwan Adumal i.e. they are the descendants of Diwan Adumal.

Agarkar
The suffix ‘kar’ means inhabitant of. Inhabitants of Agar village (a large village located in Akola district, Maharashtra) came to be known as Agarkar.

Agarwal
Their name is probably derived from the aromatic wood of the Agar (agallochum, from which incense is made), in which this community of traders dealt in. Another theory is that the name Agarwal may have been derived from Agroha, an ancient town in Haryana’s Hisar district. The Agarwals claim descent from the 18 sons of a Scythian king called Agra Sen, who may also have been the origin of the name.


Agate
Pronounced as ag-tay: In Marathi agate means ‘live coal’ (from Sanskrit agni ‘fire’).

Agha
Agha, also Aga, as an honorific title for a civilian or military officer, or often part of such title, was placed after the name of certain military functionaries in the Ottoman Empire. Many of them came to India and stayed back. These are the people the Agha/Aga name can be traced back to.

Agnihotri
Agnihotri is an Indian Brahmin surname derived from the Sanskrit word Agnihotra. The term Agnihotri originally referred to the Brahmins who maintained the sacred fire (agni) during rituals.

Ahir
A member of the caste of cowherds and milkmen in India.

Ahlawat
Ahlawat is said to be derived from Ilavrata or Alawat. Illa-vrta was a province in Jambudvipa, which was situated in Mongolia.

Ahluwalia
A descendant from Ahlu village near Lahore in Punjab, Pakistan.

Ahmad
The name Ahmad is an Arabic baby name and it means ‘much praised.’

Ahuja
The -ja suffix means ‘of’. So presumably, Ahuja means ‘descendant of Ahu’, based on the name of a clan.

Ajmera
Theory 1: A community of Jains who moved from Ujjain to Ajmer during the Vikram Samvat Year 810. They encountered famine drought for three consecutive years during this time. Shri Virsenji (community leader) distributed food to all the affected.

Theory 2: Residents of Ajmer who moved to Gujarat during the famine and came to be known as Ajmeras.


Akhtar
Akhtar is a Persian name that means “star”, “planet”, “sun”, “galaxy”, any bright celestial object seen in the night sky.

Alam
According to the Dictionary of Muslim Names, the name means ‘pain’ and was given as form of endearment or romantic name which would remind the holder of his actions.

Alawadhi
Alawadhi comes from the Arabic surname Al-Awadhi.

How?
Al- is a definite article in Arabic—the equivalent of “the” in English. Surnames that begin with “al” often refer to the place where someone’s ancestors were born. Saddam Hussein, for example, used to be called by his family name, “al-Tikriti.” Since “al-” serves as the definite article, the name “Saddam al-Tikriti” means “Saddam, the guy from Tikrit.”

Similarly, Al-Awadhi is an Arabic surname that has its roots in the Awadh region in India (now the centre of the modern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh) – during the time when it was under Mughal/Nawab rule.

It seems logical that some of the Hindus in the region who had sworn loyalty to the rulers and taken the name Al-Awadhi may have adopted/transformed the surname to Alawadhi later.


Alluri
Perhaps, belonging to a clan or town by the name Alluri in Andhra Pradesh.

Alva
In Hebrew, the meaning of the name Alva is: brightness, exalted, exalted one. The surname though could have come from a Portuguese community settled in coastal Karnataka – Alva being the name of a Portuguese river.

Amarnath
Meaning ‘Amar’ for immortal and ‘Nath’ for god, Amarnath is a sacred mountain in the Ganderbal district of Kashmir. It has a cave at its south face at an elevation of 3,800 metres known as Amarnath cave. The cave is believed to be the ancient and among most sacred places for pilgrimage in Hinduism. The surname Amarnath could have its origins from the region – either people from Amarnath or devotees of the Amarnath shrine.

Ambedkar
The suffix ‘kar’ means inhabitant of. Inhabitants of Ambed village in Maharashtra came to be known as Ambedkar. As far as Dr. BR Ambedkar goes, his original surname was Ambavadekar from the native village ‘Ambavade’ in Ratnagiri district. One of his teachers (Mahadev Ambedkar) in High School had taken a special liking for the boy, making him virtually his protege. As a token of respect and affection for his “Guru”, Bhimrao adopted the latter’s surname for himself.


Anand
Anand is derived from the Sanskrit and means happiness.

Ansari
Ansari originates from Ansar, the Medinan people that helped Islamic prophet Muhammad when he migrated from Mecca to Medina. The literal meaning of Ansar is ‘supporters’.

Anwar
Anwar is the English transliteration of two Arabic names commonly used in the Arab world: the male given name ʼAnwar, meaning ‘luminous’ or the female given name ʼAnwār’, meaning ‘a collection of lights’.

Apte
Originates from the Marathi word for a yellow bell orchid tree i.e. Apta. So perhaps, the name was first given to someone staying near the tree.

Arora
A descendant from Aror, today’s Rohri in Sind


Arya
Sanskrit word that means Noble; root word, Aryan

Athawale
One who remembers.

Atwal
Atwal (also Attwal or Athwal) is a clan name or Gotra of Jats and Dalit clan/sub-caste from the Punjab region of Northern India and Pakistan. Atwal is derived from Sanskrit word Attalika meaning ‘high hill-tops’. People living there were called Atwals.

Awasthi
Being residing in the ancient land of Awadh and their gotra being Upamanyus, who was indoctrinated in the school (of thought) of sage Vashist, the surname Awasthi is likely to be a shortened “Awadhi” form and derivative of “Awadh-Vashist”.

Aziz
Aziz means powerful, respected and beloved and is derived from Arabic عزّ (‘azza) meaning “to be powerful” or “to be cherished”. It is often associated with God directly (Al Aziz) in Muslim cultures. Having the surname could be an indicator that at some point in the person’s family tree he/she had an ancestor who was considered especially worthy of serving God

Azmi
Azmi is a surname mainly adopted by people from Azamgarh (Uttar Pradesh).
Avinash Subramaniam

Avinash has been an advertising writer, fiction writer, poetry writer, freelance writer and serial wronger. Other roles he has been in include those of an editor, brand builder, and teacher. His interests include advertising, scrabble, body building, chess, cinema, making money, reading, internet culture, cricket, photography. To hear him air his thoughts, follow him on Twitter @armchairexpert.

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