Portuguese Names in Sri Lanka and Their Meanings

Roel Raymond, in RoarMedia, 26 February 2018, with this title “Portuguese-Sri Lankan Surnames And Their Meanings” ….. https://roar.media/english/life/history/portuguese-sri-lankan-surnames-and-their-meanings


The Portuguese arrived in Ceylon, or Ceilão, as they called it, by chance. In 1505, a fleet commanded by Lourenço de Almeida—the son of Francisco de Almeida, the first viceroy of Portuguese India—was blown into Galle by adverse winds. It was thirteen years later, in 1518, that the Portuguese established formal contact with the Kingdom of Kotte, ruled by Vira Parakrama Bahu, and were permitted to build a fort in Colombo.

Although the Portuguese were primarily interested in exploring trade and commercial opportunities in Sri Lanka, an opening for greater exploitation presented itself in the form of seven warring kingdoms within the island. With time, the kingdom of Kotte began to depend heavily on the Portuguese for defense against the other kingdoms, leading to an  enhanced role for the Portuguese in Sri Lankan affairs.

An agreement in 1543 between King Buvenaka Bahu of the kingdom of Kotte and the Portuguese resulted in his grandson Prince Dharmapala being educated in the Franciscan order of the Roman Catholic Church. The conversion of Dharmapala heralded sweeping changes in Sri Lanka’s social landscape, as the Portuguese embarked on a mission to convert the local populace.

Sri Lankans in the western coastal areas were particularly susceptible to the changes, with conversions occurring en masse,  but conversions occurred interior and in the northernmost parts of the island as well. As Portuguese culture permeated the island, Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese took on many Portuguese names as their own, suffixed to their personal names.

A traditional Portuguese-Sri Lankan wedding in the Batticaloa area. Image courtesy natgeotourism.com

Here are a list of some of the more popular Portuguese-Sri Lankan surnames and what they mean:

  • Silva / de Silva: The surname ‘Silva’, and its derivative ‘de Silva’, meaning ‘from Silva’ or ‘of Silva’ is a popular Portuguese surname and means ‘forest’ or ‘woodland’. It is a wide-spread surname in Portuguese-speaking countries as well as regions formerly under the control of the Portuguese empire (like Sri Lanka, India, America, and Africa.) ‘Silva’ and ‘de Silva’ are very common surnames in Sri Lanka, but doesn’t necessarily mean the holder is of Portuguese descent—just that the holders ancestors subscribed to the cultural hegemony perpetuated by the Portuguese.
  • Fernando: The surname ‘Fernando’, although perpetuated in Sri Lanka by the Portuguese, is the old Spanish form of a Germanic name meaning ‘adventurous’ or ‘bold journey’. It is made up of the elements ‘fardi’, meaning ‘journey’, and ‘nand’ meaning ‘daring and brave’. In addition to being a popular name in Portugal, the name is common in Western India which was colonised by the Portuguese, and of course in Sri Lanka, where it is one of three most popular (the others being ‘de Silva’ and ‘Perera’) surnames taken on by Sinhalese.
  • Perera / Pereira: The surname ‘Perera’, and its variant ‘Pereira’ is derived from the Portuguese surname ‘Pereira’, meaning ‘pear tree’. Perera is a very common surname in Sri Lanka, taken on by Sinhalese converts to Roman Catholicism with the advancement of Portuguese rule in Sri Lanka. ‘Perera’ is also a Spanish name with a number of variants (Perer, Perero, Pereros, Pereyra, Pereyras, Das Pereiras, Paraira)  in the Iberian peninsula.
  • Almeida / de Almeida: ‘Almeida’ and its variant ‘de Almeida’, meaning ‘of’ or ‘from’ Almeida is a Portuguese surname derived from the town of Almeida (in the Beira Alta province) in Portugal. Portuguese explorer Lourenço de Almeida who ‘discovered’ Sri Lanka, was the first of his kind to arrive in the island. In the subsequent decades, with the expansion of Portuguese powers in Sri Lanka, the surname ‘Almeida’ took on prominence with many Sinhalese and Tamil families taking on the name.
  • Costa / de Costa: ‘Costa’ and its variant ‘de Costa’ meaning ‘from’ or ‘of’ Costa is a Portuguese surname derived from the Latin word ‘Costa’ which means ‘rib’. With time, the surname came to mean ‘side’, ‘slope’, or ‘coast’ denoting the holder was from the coastal area. The surname ‘Costa’ and ‘de Costa’ are also Italian and Spanish surnames. In Sri Lanka, the surname was adopted by many Sinhalese and Tamil families, with the adoption of Portuguese mores in Sri Lanka.
  • Fonseka: “The surname ‘Fonseka’ is derived from the Portuguese surname ‘Fonseca’, which comes from the Latin ‘fōns siccus’, meaning ‘dry well’. It refers to a spring that has dried up during the hot summer months and is today a well-known Sinhalese surname in Sri Lanka.
  • Correa / Corea: The surname ‘Correa’ or ‘Corea’ is a derivative of the Portuguese word ‘correia’ meaning ‘leather strap’. The surname is of occupational origin, meaning the holder was originally a maker or seller of leather straps (or belts). The surname is popular in Portugal and in Spain and is adopted by Sri Lankan Tamil and Sinhalese families for further advancement under Portuguese rule.
  • Tissera: The surname ‘Tissera’ is derived from the Portuguese surname ‘Teixeira’  which refers to a ‘texio’ or ‘yew tree’. Variants ‘Texeira’ and ‘Técher’ are also common in Portugal. Although less common than the ‘Perera’, ‘de Silva’, and ‘Fernando’, ‘Tissera’ is today a well-known surname in Sri Lanka.
  • Cabral / Cabraal: The surname ‘Cabral’ and its variant ‘Cabraal’ are Portuguese and Galician surnames that are derived from the Latin word ‘capra’ meaning ‘goat’ or  ‘capralis’ which means ‘place of goats’. The surname is an occupational one, meaning the holder was engaged in work relating to the care of goats, possibly a goatherd. In Sri Lanka, the surname is has been adopted mainly by Sinhalese families.
  • Thabrew / de Abrew: The surname ‘Thabrew’ and its variant ‘de Abrew’ meaning ‘from Abrew’ or ‘of Abrew’ is a derivative of the Portuguese name ‘Abreu’. The origins of the name is debated; some argue that it is a reference to the phrase ‘Abraham the Hebrew’, while others claims it refers to a ancient branch of the House of Normandy.

There are countless other Sri Lankan names of Portuguese origin, like Peiris, Nonis, Gomes, Suwaris, Mendis,  Sigera, Pigera, and others. In addition to these surnames, Sri Lanka assimilated many of the Portuguese names for everyday items such as ‘kalisama’ (trousers), ‘kamisaya’ (shirt), ‘almariya’ (wardrobe), ‘bonikka’ (doll), ‘bottama’ (button) and so many more. In parts of the island, especially the north, a Portuguese creole is spoken by a small population of those of Portuguese descent. It is clear that the 153 years the Portuguese spent in Sri Lanka affected the cultural composition of the country, even to this date.

Cover: The Portuguese manner of dressing was adopted by the Ceylonese. Image courtesy sundaytimes.lk

A NOTE from Ptofessor CR de Silva in USA, 27 October 2020: For those interested in this topic, see “D. E. Hettiaratchi, Influence of Portuguese on the Sinhala Language, Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series, Vol 9, No 2, 1965, pp 229-238.’ ……

and S. G. Perera, Portuguese Influence on Sinhalese Speech, Ceylon Antiquary and Literary Register, Vol. VIII, 1922, pp. 126-144.
On Portuguese creole in Sri Lanka see Sebestiao Rodolpho DelgadoDialecto Indo-Portuguese de Ceylao, Lisboa, Impresna Nacoinal, 1900, xxix, 259p.


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8 responses to “Portuguese Names in Sri Lanka and Their Meanings

  1. Leroy

    Hi Roel
    Is Ferdinands a portugues name

  2. Lionel Gunasekara

    Very interesting Michael
    What about names like Miranda Mirando Almeida we Almeida we Agree Sigera Pigera Chikera Nugera Peiris etc. Are these also Portugese names.
    Is there a book written on this

  3. Kyle Joustra

    Whilst a lot of these names are of Portuguese Origin, it should be noted that a lot of people in Sri Lanka are of Singhalese or Tamil Origin and were given the surnames through forced or willing conversion.

  4. Arun Dias Bandaranaike

    This is one of the recent publications involving the work and research by Dr Shihan devSilva Jayasuriya. Her considerably wide submissions in her volume on Portuguese influence remains the best.

  5. Arun Dias Bandaranaike

    https://www.cambridgescholars.com/product/978-1-5275-8134-0/ This is a recent publication which includes the research and contributions by Dr Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya, whose previously released volume on the Portuguese influence in Asia is much wider in scope and detailed in its substance. A very reliable volume

  6. Sammy

    A rather benign version of Portugese invasion and imposed conversions, in Sri Lanka.

  7. Melba Dias

    I am of Goan origin with a Portuguese surname like FARIA we had the Portuguese as recently as 1961 (443 years) in Goa The derogative website namely Thuppiahs .com is offensive

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