Sinhala (spoken by the majority Sinhalese) and Tamil (spoken by the Tamils) are the national languages and official languages of Sri Lanka. Sinhala, the language of Sinhalese, is an Indo-European language like English, Hindi, Urdu and Persian. Tamil is a Dravidian language similar to the Tamil spoken by Tamils in Tamil Nadu in southern India. Sinhala and Tamil each have their own script. Sinhalese nd Tamils generally can’t speak the other’s language.

Sinhala is spoken by 87 percent of Sri Lankas (Sinhalese make up about 75 percent of the population of Sri Lanka) and Tamil is spoken by 28.5 percent of Sri Lankas (Tamils make up about 18 percent of the population of Sri Lanka). English is spoken by 23.8 percent of Sri Lankans. [Source: 2012 estimate, CIA World Factbook, 2020]

English is widely spoken and has traditionally served as lingua franca between Sinhalese and Tamils. Sinhalese speak English with the muted consonant sounds found in Sinhala. Place names and signs are often written in English as wells as local languages. English is commonly used in government and is the language of instruction at more elite schools.

The 1978 constitution recognized Sinhala as the official language but also recognized Tamil as a national language. Tamil is spoken by Muslims as well as ethnic Tamils. Language has been an explosive issue in Sri Lanka. Tensions and war with the Tamils can be traced back the "Sinhala Only" campaign that was launched following independence. [Source: Bambi L. Chapin and Kalinga Tudor Silva, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]


Sinhala belongs to the Indic group of the Indo-Iranian subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. Also described as an Indo-Aryan language and sometimes called Sinhalese, the same name as the people, it was brought to Sri Lanka by the north Indian peoples that settled the island beginning in the fifth century B.C. Because of the relatively geographical isolation of these people from other Indo-Aryan tongues, Sinhala developed in a unique way. It has been strongly influenced by Pali, the sacred language of Theravada Buddhism. To a lesser extent, it has also been influenced by Sanskrit. It also has borrowed words from Dravidian languages of southern India, mostly Tamil. Sinhalese is written in its own alphabet and script (abugida), which, like other South Indian writing systems, is derived from the ancient Southern Brahmi script. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures”, The Gale Group, Inc. 1999; D. O. Lodric, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 ]

Robert Knox, an English captive who spent almost 20 years (1660-1679) in the Kandyan highlands, paid a fitting tribute to the Sinhala language and its speakers when he noted in his work “A Historical Relation of Ceylon’, (1681) Their language is copius, smooth, elegant, courtly, according as the people that speak it are. “

Edward Perera (1898-1982), a Malaysian Sinhalese educator, wrote: Sinhalese language belongs to the Indo-Aryan group of languages. The Indo-Aryan group consists of languages like Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Hindi, Punjabi and Maldivian. These languages share common characteristics and the Indo-Aryan language which is closest to Sinhala is “Divehi” the language of the Maldive Islands, which is written in a script called “Tana”. Tana represents a mixture of both Indic and Semitic traditions. ‘Divehi’ is considered as an offshoot or a sister language of Sinhala. As modern European languages trace their ancestry to Greek and Latin, Sinhalese and other Indo-Aryan languages trace their origins to Sanskrit.” [Source: Edward Perera, Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

The first written Sinhala texts appeared in the third century B.C. The influence of Dravidian languages gave Sinhala a distinct character around the same time. After that it evolved in isolation from the northern Indian languages that evolved into Hindi and Urdu. Some Dravidian language speakers live in Pakistan and Sri Lanka but most are found in southern India. [Source: Bryan Pfaffenberger, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]


Features of Sinhala Language

Edward Perera wrote: “Sinhalese has some unique features which are not known in any other Indo-Aryan language. This uniqueness of Sinhala is due to its exposure to other language families of the region such as Dravidian and Malayo-Polynesian. The Tamil language, which belongs to the Dravidian group has influenced the structure and vocabulary of Sinhalese to such an extent that some scholars were erroneously led to believe that Sinhalese belonged to the Dravidian group of languages. [Source: Edward Perera, Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

There are many features in Sinhala, particularly in the sound system, which are not found in the neighbouring Aryan or Dravidian languages. These elements are said to have crept in from African or Polynesian languages. The Sinhala language also contains lexical borrowings from Malay, Portuguese, Dutch and English.

Sound System: Sinhalese has 14 vowels sounds, seven of them are short and the other seven are long. Two of these vowels are unique to the language. They are represented as “æ” and “æ: ” and not found in Indo-Aryan or Dravidian. The Germans interpret them as a vowel change caused by the umlaut. There are 26 consonants of which four are prenasalized stops. The prenasalized sounds indicated as mb, ?d, ?d, ?g do not occur in South Asian languages except in Maldivian. They are attributed either to African or Polynesian languages.

Grammar: The general sentence pattern in Sinhala is subject-object-verb. In literary Sinhala the subject agrees with the verb in gender number and case, whereas in spoken Sinhala there is no agreement between the subject and the verb.

Writing System of Sinhala

Edward Perera wrote: Sinhalese is written from left to right. It has no capital letters. The writing system is called syllabic, in other words, the vowels and consonants are not represented as separate units like in the Roman script, but as syllabic units in which the vowel is inherent in the consonant. For instance, the consonant “k” is both “k” and “a” combined. A vowel appears as a separate letter only in the initial position of a word. In other places, it is indicated by adding a vowel stroke to the consonant. [Source: Edward Perera, ]

The Sinhala script is phonetic, in other words, everything that is written down is pronounced the way it is written. Spoken Sinhalese has 40 sounds that can be represented by the traditional alphabet, except the two central vowels. The alphabet has 18 extra symbols to write words of Sanskrit and Pali origin. The script used in writing Sinhalese is evolved from the ancient Brahmi script used in most Aryan languages, which was introduced to the island in the 3rd century B.C. Around the 6th century, certain symbols were borrowed from a Dravidian writing system to replace some existing symbols.

Tamil Language

Tamil, the language of the Tamils, is a Dravidian language unlike Sinhalese, the language of the Sinhalese. which is an Indo-European language. The Tamil spoken by the Tamils of Sri Lanka is a distinct regional dialect, significantly different from the Tamil spoken in mainland India but mutually intelligible. The Tamils of Sri Lanka consider their dialect to be purer than the one spoken on the mainland.

Tamils in Sri Lanka were very upset when Sinhalese-controlled government made Sinhala the official language of government affairs in 1956 and elevated it the national language in 1973, fueling tensions that ultimately led to civil war. Later measures were taken for Tamil to be taught in schools in Tamil-dominated areas and it was made a national language in 1978 constitution.

Tamil is one of the Dravidian languages found almost exclusively in peninsular India. It existed in South Asia before the arrival of people speaking Indo-European languages in about 1500 B.C. Tamil literature of a high quality has survived for at least 2,000 years in southern India, and although the Tamil language absorbed many words from northern Indian languages, in the late twentieth century it retained many forms of a purely Dravidian speech — a fact that is of considerable pride to its speakers. Tamil is spoken by at least 65 million people in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu (the "land of the Tamils"), and by millions more in neighboring states of southern India and among Tamil emigrants throughout the world. By one reckoning Tamil is the 19th most widely spoken language in the world. . [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

Bryan Pfaffenberger wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “The Sri Lankan dialect is characterized by its conservatism; testifying to the relative isolation of Sri Lankan Tamil culture, the dialect preserves archaic features of Tamil that have been dropped or altered on the mainland. The Tamil spoken in Sri Lanka is characterized by diglossia. (One variant of the language is used for high-status situations, such as political speeches, while another is used for everyday conversation.) [Source: Bryan Pfaffenberger”Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

Sinhala Swear Words

Sinhala Swearing — English Translation: Huttha — Pussy; Paiya — Dick; Gona — Prostitute, whore; Patta Vesie — Prostitute, whore; Athe Gahanawa — Fuck your mum; Puka — Ass; Puke Arrapan — Fuck my ass; Ate Gahapan — Masturbate; Kari — Cum; Kariya — Bastard; Athey Gahapung — Masturbate; Pukay arapung — Fuck up the ass; Kari Balla — Sperm Dog; Vesiegay Putha — Son of a whore; Huththigay Putha — Son of a whore; Modaya — Fool; Patta Bali — Bitch; Podi pukayar — Little pussy. [Source:]

Gihilla Ammata hukapan — Go fuck your mother; Ey Kariya — You wanker; Kari Huttha — Fuckhead (lit. cum pussy); Ponnaya — Sissy, fag; Kari Ponnaya — Cum sissy; Daara Ponnaya — Big sissy; Padaya — Fart; Gong Bijja — Mad Dick; Pakaya — Dick; Paka Huththa — Dick Pussy; Ponna Huththa — Sissy Pussy; Paduru Vaysi — Bush slut; Hutta Karakuttang — Burnt cunt; Killi Bijja — Dirty dick; Kimmba — Cunt; Kimbi Simba — Cunt kisser; Thogay amma huthek — Your mother is a bitch; Thogay powla nigiravak — Your family is a disgrace; Vesa Balli — Bitch slut; Kari Huththi — Cum Slut;

Hukapan — Fuck; Paka — Dick; Polla — Dick; Achchige hutha — Old pussy; Hukanni — Slut; Athey hukapang — Masturbate; Huthey bijja — Clit; Balli — Bitch; Ane hutto — You cunt; Du huttige putha — Run, you son of a prostitute; Ponna wahe — Sexually unable man's companion; Hurullo kawanawa — Oral sex; Gas kariya — Tree-fucker; Eta deka — Balls/testis; Arinawa — Slang for sexual intercourse; Topa — Knob, Tip of the penis; Katata ganin — Suck my dick; Kimba — Pussy; Hutta borr — Loose cunt; Achchige Hutha — Your grandmother's cunt

Tamil Swear Words

Tamil Swearing — English Translation: Pundai — Pussy; Kotai — Balls, testicles; Sunni — Dick, Cock; Kotai Sappu — Suck my balls; Kay Adithal — Masturbate; Lavadakabal — Pubes; Muttal — Idiot; Naaye — Dog; Baadu — Bastard; Thevadiya paiya — Bastard; Viveh chakra — Prostitute, Whore; Vesay — Prostitute, Whore; What-a-sarak — Sexy Bitch; Pai-thium — Idiot; [Source:]

Poolu — Penis; Kaynay — Fool; Hotah pundai nye — Dirty dog pussy; Pundi — Pig!; Ada chi — You're not worth my time; Kundi — Ass; Otha — Fuck; Sooth — Ass; Koodhi, Punda — Cunt, pussy; Thevidya — Slut, whore; Thaai-Oli — Motherfucker; Okkala-Oli — Sister-fucker; Soothe moodu — Shut your ass; Pundaiye moodu — Shut your pussy; Kaena Punda — Foolish cunt; En poola chappu — Suck my dick; Varsai — Whore; Kai adithal — Masturbate; Kay adithal — Crush the balls; Uumpu — Suck the penis/ suck the pussy; Oththal — Fuck; Aattava — Can I masturbate; Khusum — Fart; Khukhu — Shit; Ely — Mouse;

KandaarOli — Fucked by everyone; Gumbal Ku Porandavaney — Son of a crowd; Virundali Ku Porandavaney — Son of a guest; Pundayya Saathu Ra Dubukku — Shut you cunt, you fool!; Naay Poola Umbu — Suck a dog's cock; Thevidiya Pundai Vervai'la Molacha Kaalaan — Mushroom grown out of the sweat from a prostitute's cunt; Ungoya Pundaila Katrikka — Eggplant in your grandmother's pussy

English in Sri Lanka

English is spoken by about 24 percent of the population of Sri Lanka. It has traditionally served as lingua franca between Sinhalese and Tamils. Sinhalese speak English with the muted consonant sounds found in Sinhala. Place names and signs are often written in English as wells as local languages. English is commonly used in government and is the language of instruction at more elite schools. English is taught as a compulsory second language in local schools in all years of primary and secondary schools. Emphasis is placed in learning English both as children and adults as a means of getting ahead.

English was introduced during British rule and continues to be the language of commerce and the higher levels of both public and private sector administration. Use of English has declined since independence, but it continues to be spoken by many in the middle and upper middle classes, particularly in Colombo. The government is seeking to reverse the decline in the use of English, mainly for economic but also for political reasons. Both Sinhala and Tamil are official languages. [Source: Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 2009, Gale]

According to the Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language: Sri Lanka traditionally had “two broad and at times hostile educated classes: an English-using and largely Christian minority and a Sinhala-educated majority, most of whom were Buddhists. Until 1948, three languages were used side by side, English, Sinhala, and Tamil. English served as the language of administration, the generally desired language of higher education, and a link language between the communities. [Source: Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language, Oxford University Press 1998]

“In 1956, however, a socialist government replaced English with Sinhala, unleashing in the process social disturbance that has not yet come to an end. The Sinhala-only policy resulted in ‘the sharp cleavage between Sinhalese and Tamils, most of whom are monolingual in their own tongues and therefore have no means of communication with members of the other community’ ( Rajiva Wijesinha, An Anthology of Contemporary Sri Lankan Poetry in English, Colombo, The British Council, 1988). In recent years, a three-language policy has been proposed that provides for equality among Sinhala, Tamil, and English, and to some extent seeks to restore the position of English, whose role in the community was greatly reduced from the 1960s to the 1980s. English in Sri Lanka, sometimes referred to as Lankan English, has a range of subvarieties based on proficiency in its use and the language background of its users. In general terms, it is a subvariety of South Asian English sharing many features with Indian English.

History of English in Sri Lanka

In 1592 an English privateer attacked the Portuguese off the southwestern port of Galle. This action was England's first recorded contact with Sri Lanka. The British took over Sri Lanka in 1798 after Napoleon overran the Netherlands, forcing the Dutch to pull out of some of their overseas possessions. The British renamed island Ceylon. They brought down the kingdom based in Kandy in 1815, and after that maintained a colony in Sri Lanka until 1948. English was adopted as an official language and the language of commerce. In general, the old system was allowed to continue, but its future was bleak because of the great incongruity between the principles on which the British administration was based and the principles of the Kandyan hierarchy

The opening of the Ceylon Civil Service to Sri Lankans required that a new emphasis be placed on English education. In time, the opening contributed to the creation of a Westernized elite, whose members would spearhead the drive for independence in the twentieth century. The Colebrooke-Cameron Commission emphasized the standardization of educational curriculum and advocated the substitution of English for local languages. Local English schools were established, and the missionary schools that had previously taught in the vernacular also adopted English.*

Under the British, a new elite of English-speaking, largely lowland Sinhalese emerged. They became a dominant force in trade, small-scale industry and coconut and rubber plantation agriculture. The British imported Tamil-speaking laborers from southern India to work their tea, coffee and rubber plantations because the Sinhalese were unwilling to do the work. Between 1870 and 1930 roughly 200,000 Tamils migrated from India to Sri Lanka. The Tamils prospered under British rule. They had learned English from American missionaries beginning in the 19th century, studied hard at colonial and missionary schools, gravitated towards professional fields such engineering, medicine and law and were given bureaucratic posts and positions of power to keep them from allying with the Sinhalese majority. By 1947, an educated class of Tamils had been created that held 60 percent of the high profile government jobs. The Sinhalese resented this.

The British attempted to create some harmony, or least reduce resentment between the Sinhalese and Tamils. In British-run schools everyone was required to learn English and Sinhalese were required to study Tamil and Tamils were required to study Sinhalese. But the fact the Tamils prospered in the British meritocracy angered many Sinhalese.

The Burghers, descendants of the Portuguese, Dutch, and British who occupied the island from the 16th to the mid-20th century, are predominantly Christian and have traditionally spoken English as their first language. Beginning in 1813, American missionaries built an impressive series of English-medium schools (including Jaffna College, which was arguably the best secondary school in all of nineteenth century Asia) ; Sri Lanka Tamils thus had the advantage over the Sinhalese in the quest for English-medium civil service posts. Kingdom of Kandy in the highlands remained independent until 1818, conservative cultural and social forms remained in force there. English education was less respected,

After Sri Lanka became independent, the importance of English was reduced. It was viewed as the language of colonialism and was generally seen as a means of exclusion, only available to educated elites and inhibiting the opportunities for employment and upward social mobility of hitherto depressed groups. Tamils were widely perceived as advantaged in the job market (especially in access to the professions and highly prized positions in government bureaucracies) because they were seen as better qualified in their English-speaking abilities (to some degree a legacy of missionary activity in the Tamil north).

Some of the first actions taken by the new Sinhalese-nationalist government in 1956 was to declared Sinhala the one official language of Sri Lanka. The act was passed and immediately caused a reaction among Tamils, who perceived their language, culture, and economic position to be under attack. Before this English was the national language in part because it was not the native language of a particularly ethnic group. One Sri Lankan man told National Geographic, "When we rejected English as our national language, we went from the solution to the problem." [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988]

SLE (Sri Lankan English)

SLE (Sri Lankan English) is the term used to describe English spoken in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, the colloquialism Singlish, a term dating from 1972, is also used but the same term used to describe colloquial English in Singapore. Otherwise Sri Lankan English is categorised as the Standard Variety and the Nonstandard Variety, which is called as "Not Pot English". [Source: Wikipedia]

SLE word or phrase — English equivalent — Notes
shorteats — snacks — Sometimes shortened to sorties. This is usually due to mispronunciation.
hotel — restaurant
bugger — person — Used in informal speech, but not always in the usual pejorative sense of the word: sometimes similar to "guy" in American English.
parallelly — in parallel
ragging — hazing
in vain — unnecessarily — or "a shame"

Shape! — It's alright! — Used to say someone is okay with something, mainly around urban areas
pass out — graduate
get [them] down — invite [them] over
played [me] out — deceived [me]
confinement — pregnancy — Not just the last trimester.
batchmate — classmate — Meaning a student contemporary.
petrol shed — gas station
keep — put

too much — naughty, pushy, forward, etc. — Expressing excess.
today morning — this morning
cousin-brother — a first male cousin
cousin-sister — a first female cousin
yesterday night — last night
fully worth — good value
ask from — ask — Meaning "ask something of someone".
put — make — For example, "put a complaint" means "make a complaint".
current — electricity
teledrama — TV Series

Negative Influence of English on Sinhalese

Asgar Hussein, a poet, wrote in the Sunday Leader: The usage of English words where native terms suffice is a major concern today. If this disturbing trend is not arrested, we will probably see the degeneration of Sinhala into a creolized language comprising an English - Sinhala vocabulary. Although some may dismiss such on eventuality assuming serious proportions, this is in fact now taking place in the urban areas and in a short time may be disbursed to rural regions via media channels. [Sources: Asgar Hussein,Sunday Leader Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

“This is likely to happen since in media dialogues, it is not the literary language that is employed but the colloquial speech. This could ultimately lead to anglicization of the Sinhala vocabulary to the extent where it could influence literary works. In fact, this could reach such horrendous proportions that even school text books will have to be revised in favour of English terms. All this will render useless the Hela Havula's painstaking efforts at linguistic purity.

“There is nothing wrong in employing English terms to denote modern household conveniences, etc. in a context where the equivalent native terms are cumbersome or do not exist. However, it is folly when English forms are employed to denote common intimate terms such as boy, girl, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband and wife. In fact, urban Sinhala is unique in that it remains the only yet uncreolized language where these terms have gained such wide currency.

“It is however saddening that Sinhala terms like kolla and kella have assumed a derogatory sense and are deemed unsuitable for polite conversation, especially in urban areas. The more formal pirimi lamaya (boy) and gehenu lamaya (girl) on the other hand are too cumbersome, thereby encouraging the use of the English equivalents. As for the colloquial Sinhala terms mahattaya (husband) and nona (wife), it can be said these are status terms conveying the sense of not only husband and wife, but also master and mistress. This peculiarity has also encouraged usage of the English terms.

“One means by which we can rectify this situation is to revive older terms or popularise those already in existence but which have not gained wide currency. Indeed, such a process of linguistic revivalism is not wholly impractical. For example, only a few today know that the common English word 'sibling' is a revived old English term.

Old Sinhala terms could similarly be revived to suit modern usage. For example, kumara (the old sinhala term for boy) could well be revived for usage in polite conservation, while lamissi (girl) which is still used in rural areas, could similarly be employed. The pure Sinhala (elu) terms himiya and biriya could be used for husband and wife. Pemvatha and pemvathiya could be used instead of boyfriend and girlfriend. Such attempts are likely to prove successful, considering the fact that even the term pasala (school) is but a neologism coined by Hela Havula founder Munidasa Cumaratunga.

Names in Sri Lanka

Many Sri Lankans have really long, multi-syllable, difficult-to-pronounce names. Name arrangements can be complex. Many Sri Lankans have two long surnames and a given name with the given name in the middle and one surname at the beginning end their name and another surname at the end of their name. Some Sri Lankans use their second surname preceded by the initials of their first surname and their given name.

Sri Lankan name soften express the relationship between the named individual and other people. Tamils sometimes follow the Indian custom of using on name and preceding it with the initial of the name of their father’s first name. .

On history use of names in Sri Lanka, Asiff Hussein, a Sri Lanka journalist and writer, wrote: “Place-names and personal names have also been subject to phonetic change. For instance, we find Situlpavuva vihara in the south being described as chitalapavata vihara in inscriptions in situ. The site which is supposed to have been built by King Kakavanna Tissa in the 2nd century B.C is called Chittalapabbata in the Pali Mahawamsa. [Source: Asiff Hussein, 2011, Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

As for personal names, an interesting example is seen in the Kumbukveva Pillar inscription of the 10th century. The inscription records a proclamation to the effect that the female attendants of a foot through vessel (pen mindiyan) in the village shall be recruited from among the descendants of the lineage of one Doti (Doti himisura nuvata parapuren). According to the Mahavamsa, Jotiya was a Nigantha or Jaina monk who lived in Anuradhapura around the 4th century B.C. and for whom King Pandukabhaya built a house near the lower cemetery. An application of the phonetic laws that have characterised the evolution of Sinhala will easily enable us to identify this Doti with the Jotiya of the Mahavamsa.

The appellation nuvata used to describe this personage is in fact the Sinhala equivalant of the Pali nigantha. These few examples will suffice to show the profound influence phonetic change has exerted on the evolution of Sinhala throughout the ages.

Naming Customs in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, throughout the ages, has always comprised of a mix of ethnic groups consisting of the majority Sinhalese, and the minority Tamil, Moor (Muslims of Arab origin), Malay (Muslims of Malay origin), Burgher (Anglo-Sri Lankan) and Christians. History records that the earliest Sinhalese civilization originated from West Bengal in former India which is now a part of the newly created state of Bangladesh. The Moors are Muslims who are direct descendant of the Arabs while the Malays are also Muslims who originated from the Far East. The Christians are mainly converts from the Sinhalese and Tamil communities during the colonial rule of the Portuguese, Dutch and British. [Source: Virtual Library Sri Lanka ]

The Sinhalese community usually have two names. The first is called the "GE" (Sinhalese for House or Tribe, pronounced "gay") Name while the second is the actual name of the individual. The "GE" name may indicate the place from which their family originated, the title or profession of the Head of the family or any other special characteristic of the family that prevailed at the time. Hence a person may be called "Muhandiramla GE Simon" which indicates that he hails from the "House of Muhandiram" and his name is Simon. Muhandiram is a title meaning an appointed commissioner or leader of a locality. This prefix "GE" name is carried down through all descendants irrespective of whether they are male or female and would serve more effectively for searching such family connectivity. Sinhalese women usually adopt the second name of the spouse after marriage, yet keep their prefixed family or "GE" name in tact. The Sinhalese, usually, use an initial to indicate the first name rather than spell it out in its full form

The Tamil community have a completely unique and different method of nomenclature. They also, usually, use two names, the first representing their father's name and the second representing their own. Eg; Ponnambalam Ramanathan indicates that the individuals name is Ramanathan and he is the son of Ponnambalam. The son of P. Ramanathan would then become Ramanathan Arulanantham, where the son's name is Arulanantham and is prefixed by the name of his father. The Tamils, like the Sinhalese, usually, use an initial to indicate the first name rather than spell it out in its full form. Women too use the same naming structure but do adopt the husbands name after marriage. Searching for connectivity using names for Tamils can be difficult unless one recognizes the convention they usually adopt.

It must also be noted here that both Sinhalese and Tamil communities maintain a caste system, even until today, and this caste system can also have its influence on providing them prefixed names or titles.

Moors, who are Muslims of Arab origin, have multiple methods of naming amongst their community. Many of those in villages and remote towns use their fathers name as a prefix, similar to the Tamils, differing in only by the fact that they may use more than one name for the prefix. Eg; Muhammad Ismail has a son and names him Muhammad Ismail Muhammad Saleem where the sons name is Muhammad Saleem. The names Muhammad or Ahmed are commonly used across the board as first names for male Muslims while the names Fathima or Sithy or Ummu or Noor are used for females. Furthermore Muslims have a tendency to give more than one name for their offspring. This, usually, rises from the fact that all members of both spouses family take part in contributing these names. Modern Muslims living in the metropolitan areas and big cities, have adopted the use of the running Surname as is used in western cultures. This is a direct influence of the Colonial era. Malays too follow the practice of carrying on the Surname throughout their descendants. However they have a tendency to use the Prefix TUAN for males and GNEI for females as a standard similar to the Muhammad and Fathima of the Moors. Although Islam does not recommend the giving up of the family name by women after marriage most Muslim women have adopted the modern western method of taking their husbands name. Muslims also have a tendency to use initials to depict all their names except the last one thus giving rise to many names like, M.S.M. Irfan or A.L.M. Rasheed.

By this they sometimes become known to the rest of the community by the initials instead of the last name, ;eg ALM or MSM. Many Muslims living in the Central Province of the country also have Sinhalese "GE" names prefixed to all their Muslim names. This has been, mainly, on account of special titles and honour rendered upon them by the ancient Sinhalese Kings for various services and work rendered by them to the Royalty and Community during that era.

The Burghers, who are direct descendants of Colonial Europeans and the locals, either Sinhalese or Tamil, conform to the western system of naming where the Surname is carried down the line. Women, of course, adopt the Surname of the husband after marriage.

The Christians, who are mostly descended from converts from Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus during the colonial era adopt the modern western method of nomenclature keeping their surnames running down the line. However, some of them may still carry their prefix "GE" names, if they were previously Sinhalese. Some Tamil Christians still maintain their original Hindu system of nomenclature keeping their immediate fathers name as a prefix.

Thus it will be seen that Sri Lankans have a mixed variety of naming conventions and methods amongst all their ethnic groups to such an extent that it would be almost impossible to use any fixed type of search methodology to research their progeny. This fact is very important to be borne in mind by those using presently established methods of search using Surnames or Family Names.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (, Government of Sri Lanka (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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