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A Short take on anglicized Bengali Surnames

  • Writing
  • 4 min read

A few days ago, I had a interesting discussion in a WhatsApp group about last names. One of the members has a last name “Banerjee”, another member kept referring to Mr. Banerjee as Mr. Bandopadhyay. This light banter set of a series of discussions about Bengali last names, and thus prompted me to write this post.


The surnames Bannerjee, Mukherjee, Ganguly, and Chatterjee are common among Bengalis from the Indian subcontinent. They’re examples of “titles” turned into surnames that were used to denote the professions or positions of individuals within society. These names were usually granted by kings and rulers as titles and over time became family names.

Your surname is the name that you share with other members of your family.

Collins Dictionary

हिंदी में सारांश

“कुछ दिन पहले, मैंने एक WhatsApp समूह में उपनामों पर दिलचस्प चर्चा की। सदस्यों में से एक का उपनाम “बनर्जी” था, दूसरा सदस्य मिस्टर बनर्जी का उल्लेख मिस्टर बंदोपाध्याय के रूप में कर रहा था। चर्चा ने मुझे इस पोस्ट को लिखने के लिए प्रोत्साहित किया।

बैनर्जी, मुखर्जी, गांगुली और चटर्जी उपनाम भारतीय उपमहाद्वीप के बंगालियों के बीच सामान्य हैं। ये उपनाम उन “उपाधियों” के उपनामों के उदाहरण हैं जिन्हें समाज में व्यक्तियों की पेशेवर या पदों को दर्शाने के लिए उपयोग किया गया था। ये नाम अक्सर राजाओं और शासकों द्वारा प्रदान किए जाते थे और समय के साथ परिवार के नाम बन गए।”

Anglicized Bengali Last Names or Surnames

  • Bannerjee (or Banerjee or Bandopadhyay): The surname is derived from the Sanskrit words ‘bandhu’, which means friend, and ‘upadhyaya’, which means teacher or scholar. Thus, ‘Banerjee’ might suggest a teacher or scholar who is like a friend.
  • Mukherjee (or Mukhopadhyay): Similar to Banerjee, the ‘upadhyaya’ portion suggests a scholar or teacher. ‘Mukh’ is likely derived from ‘mukhya’, which means principal or chief in Sanskrit. So ‘Mukherjee’ may mean a principal teacher or scholar.
  • Ganguly (or Gangopadhyay): Again, ‘upadhyaya’ indicates a teacher or scholar. ‘Ganga’ is the name of a sacred river in India. The surname could signify a scholar from the region of the Ganges.
  • Chatterjee (or Chattopadhyay): The name could be derived from ‘chattu’, which is speculated to mean ‘four’ in Sanskrit, and ‘upadhyaya’ which means teacher or scholar. The precise meaning isn’t certain but it could mean a scholar or teacher of high standing, possibly referencing the four Vedas, which are the foundational scriptures of Hinduism.

These surnames were typically associated with the Brahmin caste, which was the highest social class in the traditional Hindu caste system, often associated with scholarly and priestly tasks. It’s important to note that these interpretations are mostly based on etymological speculation. The precise origins and meanings could vary.

Here’s some information about the origins of the surnames Roy, Ray, and Tagore:

  • Roy or Ray: The surname “Roy” or “Ray” is a title that is roughly equivalent to “king” or “ruler”. It comes from the word “raja” in Sanskrit, which translates to “king”. This surname was often adopted by individuals who either served in the court of a king or were awarded this title for their accomplishments.
  • Tagore: The surname “Tagore” is an anglicized version of the Bengali surname “Thakur”. It is derived from the Sanskrit word “Thakkura”, which translates to “deity” or “lord”. The surname was typically used by landlords and those of high social status in the Indian subcontinent. This name is famously associated with Rabindranath Tagore, the first non-European Nobel laureate who reshaped Bengali literature and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
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Takeaways: What’s in a (Last) Name ?

The surnames Banerjee, Chatterjee, Ganguly, and Mukherjee are anglicized versions of the original surnames Bandopadhyay, Chattopadhyay, Gangopadhyay, and Mukhopadhyay, respectively. These surnames were anglicized during the British rule in India, and both versions are still used today.

For further reading, you can follow this discussion on Quora or read this note on Wikiwand.