Khoja Naming Customs

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Khoja Naming Customs

by Iqbal I. Dewji, Editor,

Since their advent as a distinct people between 600-700 years ago, the Khojas have used a unique personal naming protocol that reflects their syncretism as well as their mercantile attributes.

Firstly, most have always had at least three or sometimes even four individual names as part of their full name. e.g Iqbal Ismail Mohamed Dewji (1)

Secondly, in keeping with the Gujarati tradition of always retaining one's "atak", the surname or family name of a person has remained the same for hundreds of years. Hence, most Khojas continue to have hereditary Lohana surnames ending in "ani" (from the adjectival suffix 'ani', a derivative of Sanskrit 'ansh' ‘descendant’, an honorific traditionally added after the name of the head of a family) such as Karim Moledina Pirani, Rahimtullah Muhammad Sayani, Jenabai Dhanani or Kutchi/Kathiawari names such as Musa Kanji, Peera Dewjee or Azim Premji etc. Following the Partition of India, some have followed other Indo-Pak Muslim communities to use only the father's first name as a surname eg ABDUL AZIZ due to local or colonial necessity or religious pressures. (2) (3)

Thirdly, the second name is usually the first name of the father (e.g Ismail) whilst the third name (if used) is the first name of the grandfather (e.g. Mohamed).

And finally, the first or given name has either been an Indic, Persian or Arabic word for a desirable attribute or a popular name taken from the society where they live.

This arrangement has worked well for the mercantile community in Asia and Africa or the business/professional jamaat in the West eg U Kan Gyi, Prembai Teja, Nick Kassum John Halani etc

Today, typically, a Khoja in Gujarat may be called Manoj Mahamadali Devani.

Between the 16th and 19th centuries, during the period of the European colonization of the Indian Ocean littoral area, local merchants were often identified by their Jat or guild/community in the first part of their name. So Ismail Mohamed Dewji would often be recorded as Khoja Ismail Dewji or Khoja Ismail Mohamed.(See Khoja Lalji Sumar of Mundra), Khoja Bhalo Khoja Shamshu Uddin)

However, in the West, where locals generally identify themselves with just two names, most Khojas have dropped their father's and grandfather's first names, so a typical name would be "Jamil Dewji".

The advantage of the Khoja naming tradition is that the surname retains links to ancestry, which mitigates against isolation and rootlessness, whilst the father's and grandfather's names (or mother's, if so inclined) would provide social recognition and status. The first name facilitates easy integration in the adopted country.

On migration, these benefits were not immediately apparent but once an ethnic group is established in a city or state, name recognition and familiarity can provide access to opportunities, friendships and reduce social isolation. With the Internet creating a global village, connections due to name recognition and familiarity are bound to generate economic benefits as well.

Iqbal I. Dewji, Oct 2022


1. ALDRICK, JUDITH, 'Peera Dewjee, Sultan's Spymaster' "Hussein’s great grandfather was known as Peera Dewjee and his grandfather as Abdulrasul Peera. Western influences and, no doubt, British bureaucracy in Zanzibar resulted in changes to this pattern, and subsequently this caused a good deal of confusion." Ebook highlight | Location: 207

2. ibid "Even later on in the century spelling of Indian names is by no means standardised and Peera Dewjee appears spelt in at least twenty different ways ranging from Dautschi to Daudji to Deuzee to Deoji – according to how it was pronounced in, for example, English, German or French. Ebook highlight" | Location: 536

3. ibid-"Many Khoja families re-invented themselves when they came to Zanzibar, started a fresh dynasty and forgot who their ancestors had been."e-book highlight | Location: 540

4.ibid.Location 5065-5070 "Nowadays his name would probably be spelt Pira Devji, but in the Bombay of his youth double ee’s were the vogue and showed you had arrived and had been accepted by the international business community. The spelling of the sons’ company, set up by Peera, also has this feature using a double o in AbdoolHoossein, rather than the more commonplace AbdulHussein." This essay and others like it on Khojawiki are written to provide context for the life and migration stories of individual Khoja families. We would like to add more such family histories of those who lived here, so our collective history is more complete. Please Click Here To Add Your Family And More Information To Our History