King Khan: Tracing South Asia’s Most Iconic Surname

From Genghis to Shah Rukh, one of South Asia’s most prolific last names hints at our entwined history.

my name is khan feature
Khans (The Juggernaut)

Allana Akhtar


September 21, 2023


11 min

Shah Rukh, Fawad, Mahira, Aamir, Salman, Sara Ali, Sadiq, Saif, Imran, Junaid. If you’re Brown, chances are you know a Khan.

Zaynab Khan of Washington, D.C. said she met a lot of Pakistani Khans at Rutgers and New Jersey, both of which have a sizable South Asian population. “I knew a lot of Khans,” she added. Like other Khans, Zaynab said schoolmates used to ask if she was “related to Genghis Khan,” pronounced more like “Chinggis” in Mongolian. “For me, that was very confusing because I’m like, Genghis was Mongolian, right? My ancestry goes back to South Asia. That’s not even close.” 

But little does Khan, both Zaynab and perhaps scores more, know that South Asian and Mongolian history are more interconnected than they might realize. The name changed hands multiple times throughout history, reminding us how interconnected we all are — despite forces telling us we aren’t.

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