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None of the persons I have read about from the Vedic scriptures have surnames. Instead they have patronymics and matronymics e.g. "bhārata", "pārtha", "vēyāsakī", "raghunandana", "jāhnavī" etc. One Indian friend of mine said that his surname "Chander" was created by manipulating the proper name, but he is not living in India.

Most western countries have the custom of inherited surnames. But how is it in India? Do Indian passports even have a field for the surname? If yes, what is the surname originally derived from?

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    I'm not sure if this is related to Hinduism.. but since it's related to Indian culture, I'll let it pass.. – Vineet Menon Jun 30 '14 at 11:28
  • Casts of today trace thier origin to the medieval times of Maharaja Agrasen, not the ancient period. Maharaja Agrasen had 18 sons, which all became casts. Other casts are derived the same way... – user3459110 Jul 1 '14 at 14:27
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The practice amongst Hindus in modern India varies. Indian Passports are standard with First Name and Last Name fields.

In North India, for many people surnames have been standard for generations and are dependant on caste and family group. Some family groups may have multiple interchangeable surnames available to them, so that a child of someone called X LastName1, may choose to call themselves Y LastName2, where both LastName1 and LastName2 are indicative of the same family group.

These names can be derived from traditional job of the family, or the name of person the family is supposed to be descended from, or some feat performed by the celebrated ancestor or the place the person's ancestors are supposed to be from.

In many cases, for example in rural India, or among the lower social strata, or just generally where this historic information may not be available to the family, or because the person in question wants to change their surname for any reason - generic Last Names like Kumar, Singh (can be used by any gender) or Kumari (female LN, usually used by unmarried women/girls) and Devi (female LN, usually used by married/older women).

In the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, there is no practice of surname - instead father's name is used (uncommonly mother's name for some girls, and after marriage husband's name). In countries outside of India with significant Tamil minorities this is implemented as male_person's_name S/O father's_name or female_person's_name D/O father's_name in official documents.

In Karnataka, also in South India, surnames are present - they may include some element of 'place of origin' and a patronymic as an 'extra' name. Keralite Hindus seem to have the tradition of using caste name as surname.

As for the people in Vedic literature not having surnames, well, surnames all over the world are a fairly recent innovation! People in ancient lit all over the world rarely seem to have them. Case in point, the Arthurian legends, Norse sagas etc. In fact in many countries, using patronymics as the Last Name is still a common tradition. :)

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    Hindus from Tamil Nadu used surnames till a few decades ago. It was done away with since the surnames indicated one's caste. The political situation forced people not to use surnames to prevent discrimination & reverse discrimination. If you see names of Tamils before independence, they carried a surname. Eg. V.O.Chidambaram 'Pillai'(freedom fighter), U. V. Swaminatha 'Iyer'(Tamil scholar),etc. Tamils who migrated outside Tamil Nadu still continue to use their surnames as they were not under political pressure not to do so. Eg. Dhanaraj 'Pillai'(hockey player), Manisankar 'Aiyer'(politician). – Bharat Jun 30 '14 at 14:16
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Ancient Indians generally have pravara meaning they start their family/dynasty descending order from the root person to the current person. In modern times, it has been changed(pravara still exist but not everyone knows their!) to either the area they belong to (town/village name) or any historic activity done by them (eg: annadanam as surname indicates their ancestors offered food to all needy) or some other name coined by their ancestors or by their profession or by their way of living. In some parts of India, father's or husband's name is carried as surname. In other parts, grandfather's name as surname. I observe there is no uniform practice.

Yes surname(or last name) field is carried in all forms including passport!

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Yes, Indians have real surnames. And yes, Indian passports do have a field for surname. The surnames were usually derived from the job or duty people performed. In India people generally belonged to either of the four castes namely Brahman (priests), Kshatriya (warriors), Vaisya (traders / farmers), Shudra (service men). So there name was done as per that. The scripture states:

Let the first part of a Brahmana's name denote something auspicious, a Kshatriya's be connected with power, and a Vaisya's with wealth, but a Sudra's express something contemptible. [Manu - 2.31]

The second part (surname) of a Brahmana's name shall be a word implying happiness, of a Kshatriya's a word implying protection, of a Vaisya's a term expressive of thriving, and of a Sudra's an expression denoting service. [Manu 2.32]

So as per this rule people used to have surnames. I am not aware about other states, but in my state (Odisha) the surnames still denote the nature of job the ancestors used to do.

For example, many Brahmins have surname purohit, panda, etc. which means priest. Kshatriyas have surname like senapati, khandayata, etc. which were related to war and weapons they used. Vaisyas have surname like teli, sahu, etc. denoting the nature of their business. Sudras have sruname like khunita, dasa, etc. denoting their service offered to others. People of other states also must have surnames on this basis.

So yes, Indians have real surnames. Just that in the ancient times people used to get names depending upon their deeds e.g. Madhusudan (killer of Madhu, another name of Krishna), Indrajit (winner of Indra, another name of Ravan's son) and so on. And also they were known by the name of their fathers and mothers as you have mentioned. People just used to have multiple names in the past.

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