The Ceylon Moors of old bore some peculiar names suffixed to their proper names which still figure among some elderly folk and which evidently had a titular origin. Names ending in Marikar and Lebbe in the case of males and Umma and Nacchiya in the case of females were very common in the olden days.


The Moors of yore commonly bore names suffixed with Marikkar like Sekadi Marikar, Wapchi Marikar and Naina Marikar. The name Marikkar it appears was especially applied to headmen or men of wealth or influence. Simon Casie Chitty in his Ceylon Gazetteer (1834) gives Markair as the chief of a Moor village while H.W. Codrington in his Glossary of Native, Foreign and Anglicized Words (1924) gives Marikkar as an ‘Honorary affix to Muhammadan names; also used as a synonym for Mudalali, and applied to wealthy Moors’.

The tradition of suffixing Marikkar to one’s personal name is fairly old. The Ceylon Littoral 1593 by Paul E. Pieris (1949) which is a summary of a Portuguese Tombo prepared in 1618 and preserved at the Bibliotheca Nacional in Lisbon, makes mention of a Nania Marca who was the head of the Moors of the port of Chillao (Chilaw) and gives some Moor names of Negombo such as Naina Marca, Coya Marca and Xeda Marca.

Indeed, one still comes across names like Nayna Marikar, the peculiar term Nayna probably deriving from the Malayalam nayanar ‘chief’ indicating perhaps some remote Kerala influence. Joao De Barros in his first Decada (1552) refers to one Nine Mercar ‘a Moor of Calecut’ who owned a ship coming from Ceylam (Sri Lanka) and this no doubt is his rendition of our Nayna Marikar.

The term appears to have originated from the appellation Maraikkayar widely used to denote certain Tamil-speaking Muslims of South Indian origin predominating in the coastal regions of Tamil Nadu and itself probably derived from the Arabic term marakibiyy ‘captain of a ship’ (from Arabic markab ‘ship’). It would therefore appear that the term Maraikkar originally meant a skipper or owner of a trading vessel, subsequently assuming the meaning of a man of wealth and later a chief among men.

It is nevertheless possible that some of the folk bearing the name Maraikkar or Marikkar could have originated from among the Marakayars of Tamil Nadu who claim to be descendants of Arab sea traders. This however cannot be said of all those who bore this name. As noted by Chitty, the term Markair was applied to the chief of a Moor village while Codrington has stated that it applied to wealthy Moors and constituted an honorary affix to Muslim names.


Moor men of the olden days also commonly bore the name Lebbe in forms like Ahmed Lebbe, Cassie Lebbe, and Hassen Lebbe. This name appears to have originally denoted an ethnic group, namely, the Labbais, a Tamil-speaking Muslim group resident in the inland districts of Tamil Nadu said to be descendants of Qur’anic scholars.

The name itself is believed to have derived from Arabic labba meaning ‘to be sensible, intelligent’, a word which has an ancient Semitic root as seen in cognate forms such as Hebrew leb ‘heart’ (as the seat of the intellect). However, it is quite possible it may as well derive from the Arabic labb meaning ‘to remain’, ‘abide’, stay (in a place)’ since their forbears who possibly hailed from some part of the Arab world, would have chosen to remain in their new home in South India, eventually evolving into the Labbai community.

However whether those folk bearing the name Lebbe are descended from this community is a moot point. Simon Casie Chitty in his Ceylon Gazetteer (1834) for instance pointed out that the appellation ‘Lubbes’ among local Moors was confined to ‘the priests who officiate in their temples’ and as ‘an honorary affix to the proper names of some of their chief men’ while H.W. Codrington in his Glossary of Native Terms (1924) gave Lebbe as an honorary affix of Moor names.

To this day, the appellation lebbe is usually applied to an Arabic teacher. Further, we find the name Lebbe (in such forms as Nayna Lebbe, Ahmed Lebbe and Mohamed Lebbe) occurring in a genealogical record of a group of Alutgama Moors who traced their descent to the first caliph, an Arab named Abu Bakr. We also find that of the eleven male ascendants in the direct male line of a 19th century Alutgama khatib named Mohamed Ismail, as many as eight bore the suffix –lebbe.

This is despite the fact that the family traced its descent in the direct male line to one Badrudeen Bagdadi, who as his name implies would have hailed from Baghdad in Iraq. The usage is fairly old, for in the Dutch Tombos of 1766-1771 we find names such as Marekelage Aydroos Lebbe (Head of the Moors of Alutgama), and Karte Agemadoe Lebbe (Priest of the Four Gravets).

More ordinary folk also bore this suffix such as Assan Mira Lebbe, Segoe Paridoe Lebbe and Kasien Lebbe Sarieboe Lebbe. One still comes across names like Miralebbe, Udumalebbe and Sulaimalebbe among the older folk.

A variant form –Levvai was also known amongst the Moors of the Eastern and Western maritime districts. For instance in the Ceylon Almanac for 1855 we find names such as Allipulle Marcair Oemerlewe and Lewecandoelewe Oemorlewe of Batticaloa while in the Ceylon Government Gazette of June 4, 1870, we come across such eastern (more particularly Batticaloa District) names such as Espulevvai Assenar, Alliar Meeralevvai and Udumalevvai Mohamadulevvai.

Some Moor folk of Kalpitiya in the Puttalam District also formerly bore this suffix, E.g. Mira Levvai, Uduma Levvai and Mukamatu Levvai.


Umma, an Arabic term for ‘mother’ commonly followed the names of women in the not too distant past as is evident in the names of 19th century Muslim women where we find names such as Hafsa Umma, Haniffa Umma and Umma Hany Umma. Indeed, names suffixed with –Umma such as Amīna Umma, Salīma Umma and Rushniya Umma may still borne by Moor women.

We were also told that in Jaffna, the Moor women bore such Tamilicised names like Muttumma (Pearl-mother) and Tangamma (Gold-mother) though some had their origins in Arabic proper names such as Selayamma, from the Arabic Zulayha. These are said to have been pet names and not proper names. We were however told that in the Eastern Province, names suffixed with –umma were given to girls when they were named in infancy and we may still come across women here with names like Yusuppu Umma and Kadisa- Umma.

Perhaps the earliest recorded instance of such a form occurs in an 18th century Dutch Tombo where we come across a female Moor name Oemo Naetja (Ummu Naccha). It is possible that such names have been influenced by the Arab tradition of calling women by their agnomen (kunya), that is to say, the mother of so-and-so by prefixing umm ‘mother’ to the proper names of their offspring such as for instance Umm Darda (The mother of Darda).

Although it follows that such names could only be given to women who have had children, the practice of giving persons names after their children became so regular in Arabia that names of this kind (e.g.father of Zaid, mother of Amr) were even given to infants. Such a practice was even found in the early days of Islam, though very rarely, for in the Adab Al-Mufrad we are told that Alqamah was given the agnomen Abu Shibal even though he had no children.

It is also possible that the Moorish custom of suffixing names with umma may have been influenced by the Tamil custom of following the names of women with amma prevailing in certain areas. Such names appear to have been widespread among the Mukkuvar women of Batticaloa who bore names such as Muththamma, Kannammai and Valliyammai.


Another feminine name suffix formerly used by the Moor women of upcountry areas like Akurana, Nacchiya, comes from the rare Tamil honorific naycchi or nacchiyar ‘lady’ ‘mistress’. Such names were fairly common in the olden days.

These included names like Zainambu Nachiya, Fatumutu Nachiya and Ummu Hani Nachiya. Indeed, we were told that even in Jaffna, the Moor women commonly bore names such as Seynambu Nacchiya, Sultan Nacchiya and Mira Nacchiya. In the Eastern areas however this usually took the form Nacchi. Thus Hawwa Nacchi, Kadija Nacchi and Zaynambu Nacchi.

This usage was far more common in the olden days, not only in the upcountry, or in the north or east, but also in the Western littoral (Kalutara District) as attested in 18th century Dutch period records known as the Tombos where we find female Moor names like Aijza Naetja, Kadiza Naetja, Jeijneboe Naetja and Walkizi Naetja. Here the suffix Naetja (pronounced Naccha) has been affixed to female names which are no doubt corruptions of the Arabic Ayisha, Khadija, Zainab and Balqis respectively, the first three being the names borne by the Prophet’s wives and the last being the popular Arabic name for the Queen of Sheba.


The personal names of some women may still be suffixed with Begam, a Hindustani term of Turkish origin meaning ‘lady’ (being the feminine of the Turkish Beg ‘chief’) such as for instance Rizna Begam, Sahida Begam and Sajida Begam.

Bibi, another Hindustani term of Turkish or Persian origin meaning ‘lady or ‘wife’ was also suffixed to the names of women of the older generation. In the Eastern parts of the country, it may take the form bivi and one may still come across women with names like Laila Bivi, Nazila Bivi and Mariyam Bivi.

In the olden days this form bivi was also found in the Western parts of the and as far back as Dutch times for we find in a Dutch Tombo for the Kalutara District dating to the 18th century the Moor female names Pier Biwie and Seijdoe Biwie and even one named Asa Biwie in Alutgama.
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