According to history, Khan originated in West and Central Asia and was first used as an honorary title and surname by the indigenous Turk, Pashtun, Persian, and Mongolian people. It is derived from the “Title Khan” which typically means supreme ruler, powerful leader, or military great warrior commander.
Historically, Khan as title and surname was strictly designated to nobles, monarchs, and people with great warrior and leadership qualities. These people were titled due to their great strength, courage and bravery in wars or because they had substantially contributed to society for good causes. Today, Khan is widely used by common descendant people as their first or surname/ family name.
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Khan as a Surname and First name
Khan is most often used as a surname and is rarely used as a first name. When Khan is used as a first name, it actually emphasises more on its title attribute rather than using a person’s name. When used as a Surname or last name, it indicates one’s family, tribe or community association. With the use of the surname Khan, primarily the original descendant people attempt to establish a family association and connection with their ancestors.
Some people preferably choose their first name as Khan which has nothing to do with the officially awarded title. Others have more formal recognition behind using Khan as their first name such as Khan Abdul Wali Khan.
Female Version of Khan (Khanum)
The female alternative to Khan is Khanum. Likewise, its male counterpart, Khanum was used as a noble and honorary title for females and thus means Queen-consort. Today females use both Khan and Khanum as their surname or family name. Being a unisex surname, Khan alone doesn’t indicate whether the person is male or female.
The dominant religion of Khan is mainly Islam. Statistically, the surname name Khan is significantly adopted by Muslim people worldwide. For example, people with the surname Khan from Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran, and other parts of South Asia are purely Muslims. They do not share ancestry connections with other religions, such as Hinduism and Sikhism. Besides this, the name khan is also seldom spotted in people from the Tengrism religion and non-Muslims in Mongolia and Eurasian steppes.
In rare cases, some non-Muslim females, after marrying a Muslim, voluntarily change their family name to Khan. Regardless of their religious beliefs, their new surname doesn’t make any connections to the ancestry of Khans.
Religious Influence & Khan
Due to the religious influence in South Asia, some people (non-Pashtun and non-Iranian descent) Muslim Punjabis, Rajputs, Sindhis, and Urdu-speaking people self-proclaimed themselves as Khans. The people from these ethnic groups have no ancestry connections to Khans. They changed their family names to keep their distance from their ancestors’ Sikh and Hindu legacies.
In South Asia, it is taboo to acknowledge that today’s Muslim Punjabis, Rajputs, Sindhis, and Urdu-speaking people were once followers of Sikhism and Hinduism. Therefore many people of these ethnicities find refuge in changing their family names to Khan or other surnames of Arabic or Muslim origins.
Khan in Caste System
Khan has no connection to the caste system nor it defines the hereditary of a person’s class or position in society. However, it identifies one’s family or ethnic descent and collectively relates them to their Khan ancestors. In South Asia, only the people of the Pashtun ethnic group are of true descent of the surname Khan, as these people originally moved from the west and central Asia to south Asia.
Recently other ethnicities in South Asia such as Punjabis, Rajputs, Sindhis, etc. also claimed Khan as their surname due to its historic value of nobility, power, and glamour but there is literally no evidence to back this claim. In fact, the Punjabi, Sindhi, and Rajput cultures, languages, food, traditions & customs, physical appearance etc. are more aligned with their great Indian heritage. This has been widely proven in the individual capacity through DNA ancestry tests.
Khans of the Indian Subcontinent
Khans first arrived in the Indian subcontinent (Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh) in the 12th century when Mahmud of Ghazni arrived from Afghanistan to India. Delhi Sultanate (1206–1526) remained home to Khans for 320 years where they spread across the large swaths of territory in modern-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh as well as some parts of southern Nepal.
Ghurid dynasty, five dynasties ruled over the Delhi Sultanate sequentially:
|Mamluk Dynasty||1206–1290||Turkic||Founded in Northern India by Qutb ud-Din Aibak, a Turkic Mamluk slave general of the Ghurid Empire from Central Asia.|
|Khalji Dynasty||1290–1320||Turco-Afghan||Founded Turco-Afghan dynasty centred in Delhi between 1290 and 1320 and in Bengal between 1204 and 1227|
|Tughlaq Dynasty||1320–1414||Turkic||Founded by the Turkic dynasty and ruled over the Delhi sultanate in medieval India.|
|Sayyid Dynasty||1414–1451||Turkic||Founded by Khizr Khan in the year 1414. The dynasty was ruled by several rulers and lasted for a term of 37 years.|
|Lodi Dynasty||1451–1526||Pashtun||Founded by Bahlul Khan Lodi who was the chief of the Pashtun Lodi tribe. The Lodi dynasty was the final dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate in India.|
Other Pashtun Dynasties in the Indian Subcontinent:
|Kheshgi Dynasty||1525–1807||Pashtun||Founded by the Pashtun Kheshgi tribe.|
|Karrani Dynasty||1564–1576||Pashtun||Founded by Taj Khan Karrani, an ethnic Pashtun from the Karlani tribe, hailing from the Bangash district. It was the last dynasty to rule the Sultanate of Bengal.|
|Sadozai Dynasty||1738–1818||Pashtun||The Sadozai Dynasty of Multan was founded by Nawab Zahid Khan of the Pashtun Sadozai tribe.|
|Rohilla Chieftaincies||1710–1857||Pashtun||Founded by Ali Mohammed Khan founded|
|Babi dynasty||1654–1948||Pashtun||Founded in 1654 by Muhammed Sherkhanji Babi. He belonged to the Babi or Babai (Pashtun tribe) tribe of Pashtuns.|
|Kurwai Dynasty||1713–1948||Pashtun||Founded by Muhammad Diler Khan, a Pashtun rising through merit in the Mughal Army. Muhammad Diler Khan belonged to the Firoz Khel clan of the Pashtun Orakzai tribe of Tirah.|
Khan in Pashtun Society
In addition to the use of khan as a surname or family name, in the Pashtun society, Khan is widely used as a polite or respectful way of addressing men or women, especially people in a position of authority or people of great moral values.
The word or noun Khan is also often used to address someone to that you want to show love and affection. For example, Pashtun parents or elders address their children with the name “Khan” (regardless of their surname) as a reward or when expressing their love for them regardless of their surnames.
Example of Famous Khan
Sher Khan, founder of the Sur dynasty in 1540
Mirwais Khan defeated the Persian Empire (Safavids) and founded the Afghan Hotaki dynasty in 1709.
Ashraf Khan, ruler of the Hotaki dynasty
Ahmad Khan Abdali, founder of the Afghan Durrani Empire
Dost Mohammad Khan, ruler of Afghanistan
Sher Ali Khan, ruler of Afghanistan
Mohammad Yaqub Khan, ruler of Afghanistan
Ayub Khan, victor of the 1880 Battle of Maiwand in Afghanistan
Abdur Rahman Khan, ruler of Afghanistan
Habibullah Khan, ruler of Afghanistan
Amanullah Khan, ruler of Afghanistan
Inayatullah Khan, ruler of Afghanistan
Nadir Khan, ruler of Afghanistan
Zahir Khan, ruler of Afghanistan
Mohammed Daoud Khan, the first president of Afghanistan
Ismail Khan, minister of power and energy in Afghanistan