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The Origin of the Name ‘Fernando’


By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando



The people belonging to the Paravar caste in Tamil Nadu and Kerala in southern India, and in the west coast in Sri Lanka are coastal inhabitants, fishermen, seafarers, maritime traders. The Paravars are also known as Parava, Parathavar, Bharathar, Bharathakula Pandyar, Bharathakula Kshathriyar and so on.

During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the powerful seafaring Middle Eastern Arabs having the support of local South Indian rulers started forcing the under-privileged Tamil Paravars of the caste-ridden Hindu society to embrace Islam. They converted a significant number of Paravars to Islam through preaching and by marrying Tamil Paravar women thus giving rise to a new generation of Muslim Paravars.

From 1532 onwards the majority of the Tamil Hindu Paravar community was converted ‘en masse‘ to Catholicism by the Portuguese and were baptized with Portuguese  names as surnames. The most popular name amongst these was “Fernando.”

Currently, the Paravars in Sri Lanka are an officially gazette-notified separate ethnic community. There are significant numbers of Paravars in Colombo, Negombo and Mannar. In Colombo, most of the Bharatha community members are prosperous traders and are socially and economically active.  Most Paravars in Negombo and Mannar are seafaring fishermen. 

Majority of the people belonging to the Paravar Community in India and Sri Lanka bear the surname “Fernando.” In Tamil Nadu, the question: “Are you a Fernando? is construed as, “Are you a member of the Paravar Community?

In Sri Lanka, many Sinhalese people use the name Fernando irrespective of whether they are Catholics or Buddhists.

First, let us look at the origin of the name Fernando.

There were two main branches of the East Germanic tribe known as “Goths”: the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths. The Romans labelled them as “barbarians. The Romans initially settled the migrating Goths in their realms. Between 376 and 476  these aggressive outsiders dismantled the Roman Empire in western Europe. In 410, a Visigothic force led by Alaric I, the first King of the Visigoths from 395–410 sacked Rome. By 476, the Goths achieved total independence from the declining Roman Empire. The Goths extended their power from the Loire in France to the Straits of Gibraltar that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. 

The Visigoths conquered Spain in the 6th century, and as a result, many Spanish surnames are of Germanic origin.

A Visigothic tribal personal name, Frithnanth, composed of the elements “frith”, meaning peace along with “nanth”, meaning daring or brave gave rise to some twenty different spellings ranging from Ferdinand, Fernandez, Fernando, and Ferrandiz, to Hernan, Hernando and Hernandez. In this case, the given name as Ferdinand was introduced into most parts of Europe from the 15th Century. The Hapsburg dynasty took it to Austria where it became a hereditary name and owes its popularity in large measure to King Ferdinand III of Castile and Leon (1198 – 1252), who recaptured large areas of Spain from the Moors and was later canonized.

The Iberian Peninsula also known as Iberia, located in the southwest corner of Europe, is principally divided between Portugal and Spain. The Iberian and Italian name equal to the Germanic name Ferdinand is Fernando and Ferdinando respectively.

Fernando became the Spanish and Portuguese form of Ferdinand. The feminine form of Fernando is Fernanda in both Spanish and Portuguese.

Spanish surnames ending in -ez originated as patronymics denoting “the son of”; thus originated the name Fernández (son of Fernando). And in Portuguese, surnames ending in -es are used as patronymics denoting “the son of” for example Fernandes (son of Fernando).

By the way, I am a Tamil Catholic belonging to the Paravar community and my surname is Fernando. 





Consecration of Bishop Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Fernando

I thank my nephew Tyron Devotta for sending me a copy of this article penned by Mr. Francis D’ Almeida and published in Sri Lanka’s premier Newspaper “The Island” on February 3, 2012.

History in the Making

by Francis D’ Almeida

February 3, 2012, 7:25 pm

Viewed from any angle the feat is remarkable. Engineer Xavier Bastian Fernando and his beloved wife, with a flamboyant name, Gnanasorubi did beget eight children of whom four they gave to be consecrated to God’s service.

Thus, Joe of the Diocese of Jaffna and Emmanuel of the Colombo Archdiocese became priests whilst the girls in between joined the Apostolic Carmalite Congregation. More was in store for the Fernando Family who made Kotahena their cherished abode. Years later on 11th of February 2012 Emmanuel will be called to reach the fullness of priesthood – Sacerdotal Plenitude. Henceforth, he will be known as His Lordship Most Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Fernando and will don the Royal Purple. One wonders how this humble servant of God will bear the weight of grave title undoubtedly, the new Bishop will dedicate himself to serve God’s people with renewed vigour and a burning passion.

Bharatha Community

The Fernandos hailing from the parish of Vembar tucked in a corner of South East India, belonged to the Diocese of Tuticorin. Their community known as Bharathas were the converts of the Jesuits in the 16th century whose faith was enkindled by St. Francis Xavier. Through thick and thin, they cherished their faith even as they spread their wings to distant shores, to reach Mannar, Negombo, Colombo and beyond. They were astute business people who dominated petrol outlets, liquor business and textile trade in Ceylon, as our Country was then known.

Jesuit Trained

The Jesuits in South India with their incomparable educational institutions drew many Bharatha lads to pursue academic careers as well as excel in sports. Hockey and Soccer became the trade mark of the Bharatha Youth.

La Sallian Guidance

In our Country they chose St. Benedict’s College as their prime educational institution as many Bharatha educationists had already become La Sallion Brothers. (then known as Christian Brothers) The Bharatha community helped the Catholic Church in various Dioceses in Sri Lanka with immeasurable generosity and at time facing nasty back lashes from anti-Catholic elements of the ruling regime who after the school take-over crisis-took over the lucratic dry fish trade then dominated by them. Amidst this background there were also members of the community who became professionals in diverse fields. The Senior Fernando was one of them though coming from a different educational background in Jaffna – St Patrick’s College and Guindy Engineering College, Madras, India.

Boys of St. Benedicts’ College

The Fernando *boys Joe, John and Emmanuel studied at St. Benedicts College and the girls Assumpta and Michelins at Good Shepherd Convent, Kotahena. The ‘Cathedral parish was their spiritual nursery that helped them mature to consecrated life.

Young Emmanuel (born in Jaffna) was a Colombo boy through and through and a Benedictine to the core. Guided by the noble La Sallians of the caliber of Brother Francis and Paul he matured spiritually well enough to join St. John Berchman’s Society of Altar Servers of the Cathedral Church. The Burmese friar simply known as “Brother James” a legend in his time was the moderator. He groomed the Altar Servers not only in Latin and the rubrics of the complex liturgical services but also drilled them in rigorous discipline. In many ways, Brother James’ training surpassed even what was provided in a minor seminary, so much so, there was hardly any substantial difference between ‘this and that.’ As the teenage Emmanuel entered St. Aloysius Seminary post Ordinary Level, another, product of the La Sallian Brothers – Mallcolm Ranjith who recently became Sri Lanka’s Second Cardinal, to joined the institution.6After a short stint in the Borella Seminary under the guidance of the great visionary Fr. Frank Marcus, who subsequently became the Bishop of Chilaw, Emmanuel joined the Ampitiya Major Seminary. In those tumultous days of 1966, the Seminary was in the hands of some brilliant OMI (Oblates) priests led by very Rev. Fr. Dalston Forbes who was a multi-talented formator.

Propaganda Fide – Rome

The late Cardinal Thomas Cooray had the keen sense of spotting seminarians just right to be sent to Propaganda Fide Seminary in Rome. Incidentally, Cardinal Cooray also had the knack of spotting water deep underground by a magnetic sensation he felt by the dangling metal clock on a chain.

Ordained by Pope Paul VI

Years swiftly passed by from the time Bro. Emmanuel became a priest ordained in Rome by Pope Paul VI. He soon gained experience in the parish apostolate and later taught at the National Seminary, Ampitiya. He continued his studies at the prestigious Catholic University of America for the Doctorate in Moral Theology. Few years after resuming his teaching post in the Ampitiya Seminary, he took charge the Institution as its Rector.

Rectors of Seminaries, it now seems are ear-marked to become Bishops. The list includes the late Bishop Frank Marcus, emeritus Archbishop Nicholas Marcus, Bishops Marius Peiris, Valence Mendis and now Mgr. Emmanuel Fernando.

What was special over and above all other high attributes, this hardworking priest Fr. Emmanuel who is currently holding the ecclesiastical office of Episcopal Vicar, was assigned to minister to the Spiritual needs of Tamil Catholic community in the Archdiocese.

Much Expectations

Although there was much expectations about the appointment of Auxiliary Bishops to, assist the heavily burdened Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, Fr. Emmanuel seemed to lead the list. The confirmation did come on the 28th November 2011 when the appointment came with the titular title “Bishop of Orta”.

Seventh from the Community

Thus His Lordship Bishop Emmanuel Fernando became the seventh Bishop from the Bharatha Community who they consider themselves to be the children of St. Francis Xavier. Incidentally the first Latin rite Bishop of India was the Bharatha Bishop Tiburtious Roche who too was a Benedictine. Bishop Thomas Fernando succeeding him as the head of the Tuticorine Diocese was the second. His family also produced two priests and a Bishop. The other Bishops are His Grace Peter Fernando, Bishop Leon Dharmaraj, Bishop Thomas Aquinas, Bishop Anthony Devotta and Bishop Emmanuel is the first Bishop of the Bharatha Community in Sri Lanka.

La Sallian Brothers

The list of La Sallian Bishops in Sri Lanka includes the late Bishops Roche (Tuticorin) Beckmaeyer, Emelianus Pillai, Archbishop Emiratus Oswald Gomis, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, Bishops Marius Peiris, Winston Fernando and Valence Mendis. Indeed the vision of St. John Baptist De La Salle continues to become brighter at a time and place far from his own era and society.

Te Deum Laudamus

So on the morning of 11th February 2012 as the chimes of the bells of St Lucia’s Cathedral resound to announce that one of its sons has been elevated to the office of Sacerdos Magnus we shall pray together with the vastly expanded Fernando family with glowing hearts “Te Deum Laudamus”- “We Thank you O Lord”. Indeed the Lord of history has his own strange ways to choose his leaders to the church forward, in an exceedingly complex world.

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