Names and nomenclatures are important, interesting and fun. It’s why we make it a point to put a lot of thought into the ideas for the products that showcase them. Happily, all this hard work has helped us become India’s most accomplished maker of name plates and, in the process, introduced us to hundreds of names, nicknames, family names, and stories connected to tens of thousands of names. Many of these stories are rather intriguing and we think worth sharing with you; something we are going to do in a series of blog posts centred around answers to quirky questions like ‘Are Dwivedis, Trivedis, and Chaturvedis related?’ or ‘Why do most Sindhi surnames ends with –ani?’ or ‘Why do some surnames have two capital letters?’, and more. And on that note, let’s get right into the history of name-calling.
Etymology of the Nehru surname
The Most Probably Theory
Nehru’s family was Kashmiri and his oldest known ancestor was Raj Kaul, who was a Sanskrit and Persian scholar in Kashmir. Raj Kaul’s house was by the side of a canal (called nehr in Hindi) and that’s how the surname Nehru evolved.
We were Kashmiris. Over two hundred years ago, early in the eighteenth century, our ancestor came down from that mountain valley to seek fame and fortune in the rich plains below. Those were the days of the decline of the Mughal Empire after the death of Aurungzeb, and Farrukhsiyar was the Mughal Emperor. Raj Kaul was the name of that ancestor of ours and he had gained eminence as a Sanskrit and Persian scholar in Kashmir. He attracted the notice of Farrukhsiyar during the latter's visit to Kashmir, and, probably at the Emperor's instance, the family migrated to Delhi, the imperial capital, about the year 1716. A jagir with a house situated on the banks of a canal had been granted to Raj Kaul, and, from the fact of this residence, 'Nehru' (from Nahar, a canal) came to be attached to his name. Kaul had been the family name; this changed to Kaul-Nehru; and, in later years, Kaul dropped out and we became simply Nehrus.
(Source: Moraes, Frank (1959), Jawaharlal Nehru A Biography, Jaico Publishing House, ISBN 978-81-7992-695-6)
The Conspiracy Theory
The Nehru family starts with the Mughal man named Ghiyasuddin Ghazi. He was the City Kotwal i.e. police officer of Delhi prior to the uprising of 1857, under the Mughal rule. After capturing Delhi in 1857, in the year of the mutiny, the British were slaughtering all Mughals everywhere. The British made a thorough search and killed every Mughal so that there were no future claimant to the throne of Delhi. So, the man Ghiyasuddin Ghazi (the word means kafir-killer) adopted a Hindu name Gangadhar Nehru and thus saved his life by the subterfuge. Ghiyasuddin Ghazi apparently used to reside on the bank of a canal (or Nehr) near the Red Fort. Thus, he adopted the name ‘Nehru’ as the family name. The 13th volume of the “Encyclopedia of Indian War of Independence” (ISBN:81-261-3745-9) by M.K. Singh states it elaborately.
Whether the above story is entirely true is a matter of speculation. However, the theory that the surname 'Nehru' comes from the word 'Nehr' seems to be true. And given that, there would surely have been other communities residing near a Nehr (canal) who'd have taken that name. In fact, a Facebook search reveals that there are 1000s of people in India with the name Nehru.
To read all our stories on names, surnames, and nomenclature, click here.