Sometime in the late seventies, when Indira Gandhi had pressed the ‘Emergency’ button, she air dashed to Chennai with our acting president Basappa Danappa Jatti. A mischievous Tamil tabloid put out an almost blasphemous headline to commemorate the event: Indira Gandhi Jatti Udan Vandaar! All of Madras was in splits as jatti meant underwear in the local lingo. And the line could be interpreted as ‘Indira Arrives In Her Undies!’
Some might find this distasteful. But I found it amusing. In a funny sort of way, the anecdote piqued my curiosity to learn more about Kannadiga names. So when I got down to researching the subject, I discovered that large sections of Karnataka use the PFN template for naming their children - P standing for Personal Name, F for Father’s and N for Native place. By this logic Jatti must be an ancestral town and not some local inner wear, made in Tirupur.
I also noticed that in a few cases the PFN formula might get flipped and become NFP. Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yeddyurappa is an exemplification of this format. As in, Bookanakare is the native place, Siddalingappa - his dad’s, and Yeddyurappa is his given name, which in turn, is a nod to a temple deity in Yadiyur, a town in Tumkur. Somanahalli Malliah Krishna (SM Krishna) is yet another NFP beneficiary.
But ‘What about Gowda?’ you may ask. Well, like many surnames in this part of the country, it has a fairly rural ancestry. Gowda is said to have been derived from the archaic Dravidian word Kavundan (meaning: village head). Incidentally, the Tamil Gounder has the same root.
If we turn our gaze to some other popular surnames, lots of insights can be gleaned. Hegde (head of fort), Baliga (soldier with spear), Shenoy (captain), Nayak (commander) and Havaldar (Sergeant) owe their origins to medieval military terms. While Kamath (works on soil), Bhatt (priest), Shroff (money changer), Javali (clothes dealer), and Shetty (Chettiar or Seth) typify the occupation of the tribes. And the very Coorgi Ponappa (gold), Cariappa (black), Nanjappa (wetland), Nagappa (snake) and Chinnappa (small) feel fairly descriptive in nature. Wonder, how they got their Nameappa!