Sodawaterbottleopenerwala. Quite a mouthful isn’t it? Imagine that you had to fit in this every time you filled a form which asked for your surname! Yes indeed, this is a real Parsi surname! While this may be the longest of them all, many surnames incorporate the suffix wala or vala, which indicates a vocation, or association with a particular food or item. In colonial Bombay there were Masalawalas –the sellers of spices, Narielwalas—the coconut vendors and Paowallas who served up the Pao—the distinctive Portuguese-influenced bread. Supporting the culinary individuals were Canteenwalas, Confectioners, Messmans, Bakerywalas, Hotelwalas, and Commissariats.
The Parsis are not the only community in India that took names that reflected their traditional professions. We have Doctors, Contractors and Engineers who today may not necessarily ply those trades. Similar in a sense perhaps to Mr Baker, Mr Cook, Mr Carpenter, and Mr Mason.
While we not have as colourful a gamut of names as Mr White, Mr Green and Mr Brown, we do have a menagerie that includes Mr Elephant (Hathi), Ms Mosquito (Macchhar), Dr Horse (Ghoda), and little Miss Mankad (Bedbug)!
Every state and every community has a huge melange of surnames, the study of which has engaged scholars over the years. The study of names is called onomastics; this covers the naming of all things, including place names (toponyms) and personal names (anthroponyms). Given names, often called first names, and surnames, often called last names, usually derive from words with distinct origins.
On a less academic note, I found a listing that tried to imagine a fit match between the possible titles of books with probable authors. These are certainly very English, but good for a chuckle!
Bits and Pieces Miss E. Laneous
Without You I am Nothing Dee Pendent
Arranging Letters Ann A. Gram
Fall of an Empire De Cline
Stringed Instruments Vi O. Lin
Cardiac Attack Hart A. Tack
Jean Machine Den Him
Don’t be Small B. Tall
Not Very Nice Terry Ball
Lazy Medic Dr Doolittle
Comedians Joe Kerr
Runny Nose Hank A. Chief
Time San d’Glass
Horoscopes Zoe d’Iack
It would be fun to make similar lists for desi names too. A good game for the next party!