Names have their own stories

It is unsurprising that the two main ideologues of Pakistan, Muhammad Iqbal Lahori and Muhammad Ali Jinnah were both from recently converted Hindu families. Iqbal’s grand father Rattan Lal Sapru was a Kashmiri Pandit who went rogue (i.e. married a Punjabi Muslim and converted), whereas Jinnah’s grand father Meghji Thakkar a Gujarati Lohana (Khatri/trader class of Saurashtra) converted, as far as we know, of his own volition.

I am told (by fellow blogger Omar Ali) that there seems to be some confusion around Jinnah’s name. I was not aware of this. However, hopefully this post would clarify any confusions that may exist and raise other interesting questions.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah was born “Mahomed-ali Jinnahbhai” to one “Jinnahbhai Poonja”. Apparently the name change (dropping the -bhai) was deliberately done by Jinnah himself:

From BR Nanda’s “Road to Pakistan”, biography of Jinnah

Note that it is customary in the Indian regions of Gujarat and Maharashtra to use one’s father’s name as the middle name followed by a caste/occupation denoting surname. So, say, the Indian PM Narendra Modi’s full name is Narendra Damodardas Modi, where the middle name takes after his father’s first name: Damodardas Modi. The surname Modi is the Gujarati caste of shopkeepers/traders (common amongst Parsis too).

Furthermore, Gujarati language uses the suffix -bhai as an honorific. Its use in polite discourse is similar to Sindhi -saeeN or Japanese -san. So, Narendra Modi would be formally referred to as Narendra-bhai Modi in formal speech, say, when addressing the person on a letter. Even within close family, people can be referred to as “bhai” (or “behen”) when the addressee is not actually a brother (or sister) – leading to hilarious results in some situations.

Frequent formal usage of “bhai” (especially as a part of one’s registered name) is rather antiquated in urban areas and I’d be hard-pressed to find many such examples in city-dwelling Gujaratis of my generation. As is the norm for most social conventions in the Subcontinent, however, things take longer to change in the rural hinterland. My own anecdotal understanding is that the practice survives in mofussil towns and villages of Gujarat and nearby areas. The use of “bhai” in the Mumbai underworld (and now in the vernacular and popular culture) to refer to local crime lords also takes after the same custom due to the preponderance of Gujaratis in Mumbai.

So, it is rather obvious that the suffix -bhai in Jinnahbhai is a common Gujarati honorific. The same suffix can also be found in its Anglicized form -bhoy within Gujaratis (cf. Rai > Roy is an equivalent Anglicization in Bengali surnames). But what of the root morpheme “Jinnah”? The Gujarati context clarifies this too, as Jinna (pronounced jiNa, with a retroflex N) simply means “small” or “little” in Gujarati and is often used as a diminutive. So, the name “Jinnabhai” would really imply “little Sir” or “little mister” and is a well-attested name amongst Gujaratis. E.g. see this (excerpt below):

Jinabhai as a Gujarati first name

Finally, as far as I am aware, there is no native IA etymology of Gujarati jiNa. The apparent lack of a phonetic correlate in Sanskrit makes me conjecture that the word is actually a Dravidian lexical borrowing (maybe part of the Dravidian substrate). Sure enough Tamil (and sister Dravidian languages Telugu & Kannada) has the word chinna with an equivalent meaning and similar usage in nomenclature (e.g. chinnappa lit. “little father” or “little lord”, being a common South Indian name / surname). The word-initial /ch/ <> /j/ phonetic shift between affricatives is entirely plausible. However, we would need more examples to see if this is a systematic effect in Dravidian loanwords to IA (or vice versa).