To ‘De’ or not to ‘De’

Ever wondered why there is a ‘de’ in front of your name? 

The following paragraph in the book ‘The Rise of the Colonial Bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka’ by Kumari Jayawardene strikes a chord on the ‘de’ part (or is it ‘De’) of the de Fonseka name.

‘Jeronis Soysa’s son Charles, born in 1836 was sent to the Colombo Academy where he received an education in English and added the fashionable prefix ’de’ to his surname.’

The name ‘de’ is considered the aristocratic part of the name, the equivalent of which is found in the French/Italian ‘de’ and the German ‘von’ prefixes. In Spain and Portugal, this part of the name is also written as ‘da’, and the complete surname being written as ‘da Fonseca’. In its use, the ‘de’ gives the meaning ‘from’ or ‘originating from’.

It seems that during the times of the Colonial administrators, different families that rose in stature, due to new found economic prosperity and or on being presented with titles such as Muhandiram and Mudaliyar, took on the ‘de’ part of the name to signify their new found status in society. It is also evident that most of these changes took place during the British Administration. So it is still possible to find, for example Gampolage Fonseka families as well as Gampolage de Fonseka families.

In the example quoted above, it is possible that the Portuguese name of Souza was corrupted to the name Soysa (or Soyza), and then with the meteoric rise of the family during the 1800’s took on the name of ‘de Soysa’.

In one of the family trees I found in my research, this name change has happened between 1870 and 1893. This family is one from the Hewafonsekage Fonseka families. When you consider the de Soysa example given above, it is possible that Charles Soysa born in 1836 may have graduated from the Colombo Academy (at around 19 Years) in 1855, and took upon the ‘de Soysa’ name at around that time.

                Family Tree of Hewafonsekage Abraham Fonseka.

Related Stories:

                Fonseka Parapuraval (Families)