Khoja Naming Customs

From Khoja Wiki

Since their emergence as a distinct community between 600-700 years ago, the Khojas of Western Gujarat have used a unique personal identification protocol that reflects their syncretic 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

Secondly, in keeping with the Gujarati tradition of always retaining one's "attak", the surname or family name of a person has remained the same throughout the generations. Hence, most Khojas continue to have ancient Sindhi Lohana surnames ending in "ani" such as Lalani, Kanani or Sayani or Kutchi Kathiawari names such as Kanji, Manji or Dhanji etc. . Following the Partition, few have followed other Indo-Pak Muslim communities and use only the father's first name as a surname eg Iqbal Ismail.

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

And finally, the first or given name of a Khoja person has either been an Arabic, Persian or Indian word for a desirable attribute or sometimes, a popular name taken from the local society where they live. This has served well for a business community on the sub-continent.

Between the 16th and 19th centuries, during the period of the European disruption and colonization of the Indian Ocean littoral area, local merchants were often identified by their caste in the first part of their name so that Ismail Mohamed Dewji would often be recorded simply as Khoja Ismail Mohamed.

Today, a typical Khoja in Gujarat would be called "Geeta Kanji" and in Africa, "Geeta Karim Kanji".

However, in the Western countries, where names of locals are generally limited to two words, most have dropped their father's and grandfather's first names, so a typical name would be "Adam Kanji".

The advantage of the traditional Khoja naming protocol is that the surname retains links with ancestry (which is important to avoid rootlessness), the fathers/grandfathers names (or mothers, if so inclined) would provide social recognition. The first name of course, allows for easy local integration.

In migration, these benefits were not immediately apparent but once a community is established in a city or state, name recognition and familiarity can lead to access to opportunities, friendships and avoid social isolation. With the Web creating a global village, connections due to recognition and familiarity are bound to generate economic benefits as well.

Iqbal I. Dewji