The tale of my three last names

I have a last name with strange family history. Northern Indian last names differ from Western last names. If you are a Hindu, your last name reflects your caste. Since, my last name is Sharma, it reflects my Brahmin ancestry. Hence, people in India can identify my caste through my last name. According to Wikipedia, Sharma could be used as a first, middle or last name. The word has positive connotations such as joy or shelter. My understanding is that people of Brahmin caste can opt for Sharma as a last name but no one knows of its exact origin and how it turned into a popular last name.  Moreover, there are like a bajillion Sharmas  in India and the US and Canada due to immigration. Some of these Sharmas might marry another person with the last name Sharma. But before you cry incest, there is another layer behind the last names that need to be scratched. The last name doesn’t tell the Gotras (lineage). If you are Brahmin, this means you descent from one of the great sages. Hence, my dad’s Gotra is Bardhwaja, Therefore, he is a descendant of Rishi Bhardwaj. My mom who is also Brahmin has the Gotra of Vatsa. Hence, even though they are both Brahmin and their last name Sharma, their lineage is quite different. Currently in India, you cannot marry a person from the same Gotra if you are Hindu.

Now, let’s make the whole last name thing more confusing. If you have come across many Indian people, you might have noticed some Indian people with the last name of Bhardwaj. Here is the catch: My dad could have the last name of Bhardwaj since that is his lineage. I could as an adult change my last name to Bhardwaj. But, this is  not the only last name I could have. I could also opt to have the last name Barat since that is the name of my father’s sub-caste. Now, this last name is actually found in Europe as well. Apparently, it is a popular last name that originated from Normandy, France. Of course, I do not have French lineage. But the word Barat is found in Bible, Bhagvad Gita, and Quran. Now, Gita was written in Sanskrit and it is a sister language of Latin. So, it is totally possible for people from two different continents to have the same last name. Furthermore, there is speculation that  Barat connotates a profession such as Baker. Now, my ancestors were cooks for the Dogra King because the King would only eat food cooked by Brahmins as it was considered satvic (pure). So, it kind of makes sense in terms of sub-caste.

Therefore, I have  three options for a last name but I am happy with my current surname. BTW, this post was triggered after I asked my parents about our family name. They knew their Gotras and sub-caste but had no other knowledge. I didn’t even know too much about caste system except that it exists in India and some people are treated horribly due to their exclusion from the system. Those people are known as Dalit. Another interesting tidbit was that the caste system was more fluid and there was some social mobility. Under the British rule, caste system became more rigid in India and people couldn’t move up the caste system.

Hope you all enjoyed this post and please feel free to tell me about your ancestry. I have  learned other cool things about my family and I might share in the future.

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2 thoughts on “The tale of my three last names

  1. i have a whole branch of my family tree with the surname Sharma:) Surnames in India are loaded with not just caste but also geographical associations, but Brahmin surnames tend to be an exception to this rule. A ‘Sharma’ can be from any corner of India.
    I dropped my surname on my workplace ID in India because of such associations-associations which invariably lead to presumptions based on nothing more than a name.
    Another friend’s grandfather was so against the caste system that he changed the family name to a neutral ‘casteless’ one, pointless, because the extended family still know the original one,and so haven’t really forgotten their caste!

  2. Oh you are so right about the geographical implication. Also, my Tamil friends just take their dad’s first name as their surname. So, it does vary from region to region. You are right about Sharma being popular all over India. If I was in India, I would give my last name as Barat and just troll them. It is an uncommon name even among the Pahari/Dogri people. As I stated in my post, you will find more French people with that last name.I find it frightening that people in India do discriminate based on last name. I can personally vouch that being Brahmin doesn’t make you a superior person. People are people, let’s treat all with respect and judge them on actions and not last name. Actually, no just stop judging.

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