Tag Archives: Paravars

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. 






Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 5 – Travel to Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj


Map - Goa to Jaffna
Map – Goa to Jaffna


In March 1686, Joseph Vaz left Goa secretly and set out on foot to go to Ceylon without informing anyone. However, he obtained the blessings of his Prefect and the Cathedral Chapter of Goa.

Father Paulo de Souza, Brother Stephen, accompanied Joseph Vaz along with his loyal domestic servant John.

They traveled to Tellichery where people told them that the Dutch were ever vigilant and might deem Father de Souza to be a European because of his fair complexion. Moreover, Vaz noted that it would not be possible for them to land in Ceylon as a group without arousing suspicion. So, Vaz sent his two companions, Father Paulo de Souza and Brother Stephen back to Kanara.

Vaz proceeded to Cochin (now Kochi) with his servant John carrying a bag that contained sacred vestments and other accessories for celebrating Mass.

From Cochin, they traveled on a Moorish ship to Quilon (now Kollam). The ruthless captain of the ship demanded more as fare. Since they had no more money to pay the extra sum, the captain started scolding them. With great patience, they bore the affronts and the insults. The captain then seized their only possession – the bag containing the sacred vestments and other accessories for celebrating Mass. A Christian from Quilon was about to help him, but the Episcopal Governor of Cochin who was there  paid their fare.

In the 17th century, the Portuguese maintained their power in Kerala with their settlements and trade centers. They concentrated mainly on the port towns of Cochin, Calicut, Cannanore, and Quilon. In 1663 due to the Dutch Invasion Portuguese Empire declined. The Jesuits in Kerala transposed their Vaippicotta Seminary to Ambazhakad (Sambalur). The Jesuits started a house of Jesuits, Vidyapeeth (St. Pauls’ College) and a seminary for Christians of St. Thomas.

When Joseph Vaz and John reached the Jesuit College, the Jesuit priests received them cordially. They advised Vaz that if he wanted to enter Ceylon he should put aside his torn, threadbare soutane, and dress like a “coolie”. The Jesuits offered them coarse loincloth like the ones used by the slaves of the Dutch. Vaz humbly accepted their advice and the loincloth.

After reaching the Coromandel Coast, Vaz studied the Tamil language assiduously for that was the language spoken in the Northern part of the Island of Ceylon.


View of the Dutch port Tuticorin, Coromandel Coast, India in 1672.  'Tutecoryn' by Philip Baldaeus, from 'Nauwkeurige beschrijving Malabar en Choromandel, derz. aangrenzend rijken, en het machtige eiland Ceylon', Amsterdam, 1672. (Source: columbia.edu)
View of the Dutch port Tuticorin, Coromandel Coast, India in 1672. ‘Tutecoryn’ by Philip Baldaeus, from ‘Nauwkeurige beschrijving Malabar en Choromandel, derz. aangrenzend rijken, en het machtige eiland Ceylon’, Amsterdam, 1672. (Source: columbia.edu)


By the end of March 1687, Joseph Vaz and John reached the Coromandel Coastal town of Tuticorin captured by the Dutch in 1658. The harbour in Tuticorin was even then well known as a pearl diving and fishing centre of the Paravar community.


'Pearl fishing on the coast of Tuticorin by Paravars using thoni' from 'La galerie agreable du monde. Tome premier des Indes Orientales.', published by P. van der Aa, Leyden, c. 1725 (Source: columbia.edu)
‘Pearl fishing on the coast of Tuticorin by Paravars using thoni’ from ‘La galerie agreable du monde. Tome premier des Indes Orientales.’, published by P. van der Aa, Leyden, c. 1725 (Source: columbia.edu)


The Paravars used the thoni, one of the oldest known indigenous country sea vessels for pearl fishing. The thoni was also used to transport goods and people between India and Ceylon in the Palk Strait. So, Vaz envisaged to board a thoni from Tuticorin to go to Ceylon. But, the town of Tuticorin and the harbour were under the control of the Dutch.

In Tuticorin, Vaz met a Jesuit priest who had been his companion in the College of St. Paul in Goa. On knowing the reason for Vaz’s disguise as a coolie and to maintain the camouflage, the Jesuit priest treated Vaz like a bondservant. Whenever Vaz ventured out he went about disguised as a mendicant.

A hawk-eyed Dutch officer in charge of the harbour area suspected the furtive ways of Vaz. He presumed that, Vaz in disguise, was waiting for the opportunity to travel to Ceylon by sea. He ordered his subordinates, not to allow anyone to embark for Ceylon without his permission. However, the Dutch officer died shortly. The new officer who took charge, not knowing the reason for the order given by his predecessor allowed Joseph Vaz and John to board a thoni that set sail to Ceylon.

The thoni met with a storm and drifted away from the normal course. After several days of drifting, the vessel reached the island of Mannar. Joseph Vaz, John and the others on the vessel were reduced to skeletons for want of food.

There were many Catholics in Mannar, but Joseph Vaz was not aware of this fact. He and John begged to sustain themselves.


Painting of a Kattumaram in Sri Lanka (Source: patrickgibbs.com)
Painting of a Kattumaram in Sri Lanka (Source: patrickgibbs.com)


Two months later, Joseph Vaz and John were taken in a kattumaram (catamaran)  by local fishermen to the town of Jaffna, located at the Northern tip of Ceylon.

When Joseph Vaz and John landed in Jaffna, they were famished and almost half dead. Since they needed food and a place to rest, they knocked on many doors, but were chased away by almost all the Tamil households there.  Finally, a woman allowed them to spend the night in a dilapidated hut near her house.

As a result of fatigue, hunger and thirst, Joseph Vaz suffered from an acute form of dysentery. As dysentery often led to epidemics and death at that time, any form of dysentery was much dreaded by the people both in India and Ceylon. When the neighbours saw that Vaz was not even able to walk, they carried him on a litter to the nearby forest. They left the ailing man there exposed to the intemperate weather and to the mercy of the wild animals.

John looked after his master, day and night. During the day, he went to the town and begged for food to feed the sick man. Eventually, John too contracted the disease.

Without any other alternative left for them, they prayed to God and awaited death.

Their faith was rewarded in the form of a lady who had come to the forest to gather firewood. Out of pity, she supplied them daily a bowl of kanji (broth). After some days, thanks to the kind-hearted woman, their health was restored.

However, Joseph Vaz knew that greater trials and tribulations were in store for him on the island.


Next → Part  6 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Jaffnapattinam

← Previous: Part 4: Persecution of Catholics in Ceylon by the Dutch