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"GE" Names of the Sinhalese People

Mahabisota Atha dunge Sunday Observer Apr 28 2002


Carol Aloysius, according to her article which appeared in the Sunday Observer of April 7, has had the rare privilege of shaking hands on a Commonwealth Day with the departed queen mother, (lifescore 101). This piece is written to inform her that she is now entitled to the patryonmic name or Ge name of Mahabisota Atha dunge (of the household of one who shook hands with the Great Queen). This has a precedence of a rather well-known Sri Lankan family that carries the Ge name now, Maharajuta Atha dunge (of the household of one who shook hands with the great king).

A progenitor of this family line earned his family this Ge name after he, in the style of Carol, had the privilege of shaking hands with the king of England or heir apparent who later donned the crown. According to the Malalasekera dictionary a patryonmic name usually called the Ge name or household name (as the term always ends with the word 'Ge' meaning the household) is the name that descends from grandfather to grandson and so forth.

Now we have appended to this a surname imitating the Anglo race. that makes the Sinhalese, one of the races with the longest names, the Ge name in front, then the middle name or names (often called the Christian name almost ironically as many of the Sinhalese are Buddhists and do not go through the Baptismal rites at which the Christian name is conferred) and then comes the surnames.

It is lucky that despite all the mod and alien factors creeping in, that a predominant section of Lankans have decided to retain their Ge names for these Ge names can be metaphorically termed as deep dark alleys into the past. Many of them transpire a peculiar or particular historical episode connected to the family, the original village or area the family came from, the original profession and even the caste in most instances.

A public figure who had read a piece on genealogical history penned by the writer, once informed her that he has relatives who carry a Ge name aligned to Burma or Myanmar; Myanmarage or some such equivalent and also added that most of this family exhibit Burmese facial features. One could easily conclude that the progenitor of this family had come originally from Myanmar and fattened the cosmopolitan population our island is famed for.

Another famous family carries the Ge name, Thombi Mudiyanselage, that many wrongly construe as an affiliation to Muslim antecedents of this family, connecting Thombi to Thambi. But actually according to the genealogy history written by J. Dias Abeysinghe, now departed after haunting the Archives in his life time, this family earned this Ge name after an early ancestor acted as a guide to the Dutch. Thombi had been the current word for guide in the Dutch period.

Kollara Mudiyanselage family of Lagumdeniya off Gampola is very proud of its Ge name as it had sprung from their profession as those in charge of the stone weapons of the indigenous army. The word Kollu however has Tamil linkages Kasakarages and the Kodituwakkuges trace their antecedents to their respective roles in the Dalada perahera and the military fields.

It is almost quaintly pathetic to observe how those of the South try to trace their roots to Mahanuwara via their Ge names and it reflects the extent to which this area is regarded as the real heart of the country. The Sittambys and Kandambys have their own fascinating history connected to the highlands from which area they had fled at some juncture in history. As said earlier, Ge names are also revelations of one's caste. But here we are treading on rather fragile and sensitive Sri Lankan ground. However the writer cannot refrain from referring to Ananda Coomaraswamy's Magnum Opus, 'Medieval Sinhalese art'.

Here in chapter 3, in allusion to the Navandanno caste, he says that this caste consisted of local artificers and Tamil artificers from South India. His isolation of this caste for a detailed survey can be explained by the fact that this caste had more or less played the role of custodians of the crafts of ancient and medieval Lanka. Using this liberty, it may be mentioned here that some members of the Salagama community own Ge-names aligned to Shaligrama of India, said to be their 'root-land.'

The younger generation today tends to drop the Ge names since they are too uncomfortably long especially when filling computerized forms. May be there is some logic in their thought process besides the fact that some Ge names are skeletons in the cupboard. eg. Madanakoralage means "Of the household of the village chieftain brimming with lust". Maybe he earned it after many a pursuit of pretty village damsels. But if the whole Sinhala race decides to drop these Ge names it could be tantamount to dropping off a miniature repository of the dead past.

To illustrate this fact here is a conversation between a mother and daughter living somewhere around 2300. (This dialogue will only take place if the Ge name dropping mania does not continue).

"Mother. What does this name of ours 'Mahabisota atha dun ge' mean?"

"Dear daughter. About 200 years ago, your great great, great grandmother had shaken hands with the Queen mother of England a very brave woman who remained immune to the Nazi attacks of the 1940s, when the Second World War was staged. She stayed equally immune to Maraya or the Demon of death but at last gave in to him at 101 life score. This name has its origins in this handshaking incident."

The little girl has had a nice little history lesson in her own home.

But ofcourse to deliver the little history lesson the mother herself should be proficient in the subject.


'Ge' names - a reply Sunday Observer May 19 2002

In your issue of 28.4.02 reader Padma Edirisinghe writing on 'ge' names (pg 26) says "It is almost quaintly pathetic to observe how those of the south try to trace their roots to Mahanuvara via Ge names, and it reflects the extent to which this area is regarded as the real heart of the country."

Rohan Jayatileke writing in the Daily News of 3.4.02 on Mahagama, the first settlement of the Aryans, says "By the third century BC practically the whole of Sri Lanka, with the exception of the central hilly region and the eastern coastal areas appears to have been populated, with the population explosion as such and depending solely on sustainable agriculture... On this strength Henry Parker argues in favour of Mahagama and its environs as the first Aryan settlement with Kirinda as the landing place..."

History is history, and there cannot be two interpretations. History was not my forte, and I gave it up at the first opportunity, but I cannot reconcile these two statements by two knowledgable readers. Incidentally they both fall back on J. Dias Abeysinghe of a bygone era. Will some reader enlighten us please.

Dr. Chandra Weeraratne