More on Names: Nomenclature sources & one happy family

July 7, 2010

Every other (Hindu) Indian you know would have his name based on some God or the other in the Hindu pantheon. The generic Bhagwan or Ishwar, the trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh and others based on alternate names or avatars or consorts of the aforementioned. Ram, Krishna, Shiv, Parvati, Durga, Vaaman, Ganesh, Ganapati etc. Sometimes also in conjugated versions; Ramkrishna, Sitaram, Shivaraman or even Shivaramakrishnan. Some are derivatives like Ramavatar, Ramgopal,. Even the relatively minor Gods like Ashwin have been used, and quite extensively. The Gods have been aloso been called by different names: Vishnusahasranam is a good example. A thousand names of Vishnu. There there are names for Hanuman: Mahavir, Anjaniputra, Aanjaneya, Bajrang, Pawansut, etc.

Some people take to scriptures to name their offsprings. Yours truly has two sons named Ved and Manas (the diminutive for Ramcharitamanas). Somewhat in the same league are Prarthana, Pooja and Aastha?

However, this post is not on mortals names based on Gods, but those on a myriad other topics as diverse as, objects, animals, and even seasons and feelings. The beautiful Hindu tradition of seeing God in seeing everything is perhaps at work here.


Humankind can be named after animals, after all they are God’s creations too. Though I must admit this has gone a little out of vogue. Sher (lion), also often fortified by connecting this with the family surname and making it Sher Singh. This is not be confused with Shamsheer which has an altogether different meaning in Persian (sword). What is a little more popular is Mrigendra, lion as the king of animals. The lord of the animals, Khagendra, is not really popular as a name nowadays. There is this whole series of names on the ever popular monkey, Kapi. Variants include Kapil (monkey coloured), the word has many more meanings and of course the lord of all monkeys, Kapindra.

The following bunch of names are totally out of fashion among the urban folks, these were very popular a century ago. Maina (sparrow), Tota (parrot), Kabootari (female pigeon), Mayur (peacock), and variants of Hans (swan); Hansini, Hansraj, Hansanand. While the specific bird names are not in vogue, the generic Paakhi is a pretty popular name.

Reptiles have a large share of names; Nagendra, Nagamani, Nagesh, Bhujanga. Of course these do not mean the venomenous and the much feared cobra but the individual’s relationship with the animal. Naga (the snake) and Nag (mountain) may actually confuse you whether the Nagesh you know is named after the king of God (Nagesh) or king of the mountains (Lord Shiva)


If the fauna has contributed to the names of the humankind, flora is not too far behind.

The erstwhile popular names like Genda (marigold), Gulab/Gulabo/Gulabchand (rose), Bela, Champa, Chameli are now out of fashion. The lotus still retains some popularity with names on Kamal still around, Kamal, Kamalnayani (lotus eyed), Kamalnath. I have two lotuses in my family, my tauji took on the name Swami Kamalnayan when he renounced the world and became a sadhu and my mother, Kamaladevi (lady of the lotus). But some of the alternate names of lotus still are in vogue. I wonder how many of you remember mugging up the paryavachi of kamal- Jalaj, Pankaj, Neeraj. Some of the new world names on flowers Parijat (jasmine). The generic Phoolkumari is out but Pushp or Pushpa, another name for flower, still remains. I even know of a person names Parijat Pushp. Pankhuri (flower petal), too, is a popular name. Though not quite a flower, but certainly of botanical origin,  Pallav or Pallavi (a young shoot) too is popular. Like Lata.

Celestial objects:

The Indian astronomy (and the Indian astrology) has been existent for thousands of years now. And sure enough we have celestial objects finding their way onto terra firma. Prithvi is terra firma itself! Akash means sky; Surya, Chand, Tara are sun, moon, star. Pawan is breeze and Badal is a cloud.


Indians have not failed to remember their seasons, given that we are a lot dependant on them. Ritu, means a season, just a generic season. There are names based on autumn (Sharad), summer (Grishma), spring (Vasant) monsoons (Saawan). Even the output of the Saawan month, rains, is celebrated with names. For example, Barkha.

Feelings and Emotions:

We have so far explored examples of names based on Gods, and God’s tangible creations (flora, fauna, seasons, celestial objects etc). What about some other delightful gifts of the Gods to the humankind? Like emotions.

The range of feelings expressed in ever-popular names like Prem (love), Anubhuti (feeling), Anubhav (experience), Harsh and Ullas (joy), Kripa (compassion), Mamata (affection), Kshama (compassion), Shanti (tranquility)! You have Arush or Aarushi who are unflappable and Saumya who is gentle, soft and mild.

Even words to describe beauty are common names; Sulochana and Sunayana meaning pretty eyes, Sugandha is the one who smells good and Sundar and Soundarya meaning beauty itself in masculine and feminine!

One erudite, well-lit, contented family:

I end this piece with a family which has two great books (Ved and Manas- as in “Ramcharitmanas”) which can be read in the rays of light of sun or moon (Kiran), all making for a contented householder (Santosh). Not surprising at all – after all, this family springs from Chandradeo (Moon God) and Madhuri (loveliness) on the one side and Satyadeo (God of truth) and Kamala (Lotus) on the other.

Thank you.

PS: Here are the earlier posts on names: Post 1, Post 2

Migrant Tales….we are always on the move

July 4, 2010

Neil Armstrong reached moon in July 1969. The whole world was watching him as he took his first steps and uttered famously, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. The legend goes that the TV cameras did not capture the next scene. Neil said, “I am tired, I need a drink.” Before Budweiser, Coke, et al, could chip in, an Indian appeared. “Neil, saar, have some coconut water.” The ubiquitous Malayali coconut-seller was there already, even before the arrival of the “first-man-on-the-moon”!

Now that is, of course, a joke, but stories about migrant Indians are many. And nearly all of them true. Indians taking small steps, and over millennia, these small steps result into giant distances.


I live in Bangalore now but I was born and raised in Jamshedpur. I am a migrant.

My father was born and raised in the western part of Bihar. He migrated to Jamshedpur, some 600 km South of where he was born, about sixty years ago. He built his career as a teacher there and settled down, raising his family and building his house. His forefathers came from Kannauj. They crossed the Saryu river (and hence were called Saryuparin Kanyakubj, Kanyakubj the Sanskrit for Kannauj) and migrated to the Eastern parts of the country. Their forefathers, in turn, came from the North-Western parts of India who migrated along the Gangetic plains. And their forefathers would have come from somewhere from Eastern Europe (as some historians believe). Some of their kinsmen would have dropped off in the region now called Indo-Iranians, while my forefathers became what is now called Indo-Aryans.

All in my family tree are migrants.


Around 150-170 years ago, there were hordes of migrants sailing their way to distant lands. Some went to Fiji, some to the West Indies islands (Trinidad, Surinam etc) while some travelled to Mauritius. They were from India, more commonly from Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They went as indentured labourers, the British answer to the abolishment of the slavery system. The Brits still needed cheap labour for their sugar-cane farms. Among the migrants there was a large contingent from the parts of Bihar where I trace my roots to.

Over a period of time, these lowly laborers saved enough money to buy some land of their own. And then they slowly began asserting themselves politically. In Mauritius they got rid of the British rule and began ruling the country. The migrants ruling the land they were transported to. The Gandhi of Mauritius, Seewoosagar Ramgoolam headed the first government after the colonial rulers and over the period of a few decades, we now have his son- a qualified medical practitioner- as the prime minister of the country. The migrants who were the oppressed are now the rulers.

And, it is said, Seewoosagar Ramgoolam’s forefathers came from our village.


I stay in Bangalore, Karnataka, home to thousands of Tibetans who have been settled in a town called Kushalnagar in Coorg district. Tibetans from Lhasa and thereabouts escaping into India to Himachal Pradesh and then getting settled into lands deep into south of the country. Not quite migrants, probably refugees. But now settled in India. They preserve their language, customs and religion in a distant land.


Let us get a bit more esoteric even while being confined to South India.

The last Congress Chief Minister of Karnataka was Dharam Singh. Now you will wonder what this surname Singh is doing in this Southern state. Well, D. Singh’s family migrated to North Karnataka from Rajasthan several millennia ago. Rajput warriors migrating Southwards in search of a living.

What about the Saurashtrian weavers moving into Madurai some thousand years ago? Troubled by the invasions of Mohammad Ghazni in the 13th century, these weavers moved southwards and were eventually rehabilitated by the King of Madurai, Thirumalai Naicker.

And the trading community from Andhra (Settys) in Tamilnadu? They speak the Telugu language even if they have been living in TN or Karnataka for the last few centuries.

The Peshwas of Maharashtra enjoyed the Maratha supremacy and branched out all over West India. So you have the Scindias in Gwalior, Holkars in Indore and in Baroda, the Gaekwads.

The pundits of Uttarakhand were migrants too. Bahugunas came from Bengal. Apparently, the Bahugunas were Ayurvedic doctors from Bengal and after being cured by one of them, the king of Garhwal anointed them as Bahuguna (“of many qualities”). The most famous of all Bahugunas, Hemwati Nandan, was the Chief Minister of the undivided state of Uttar Pradesh. His daughter, Rita Bahuguna now presides over the UP Congress Committee.

Some came from the Western parts of India, like the Pants.

The legendary Ganguly brothers, Ashok Kumar, Anoop Kumar and Kishore Kumar were migrant Bengalis who had settled in Khandwa, a small town in Madhya Pradesh. The Bengalis even have a specific word for Bengalis of this variety- “probashi Bangalis”.

The famous Nehrus from the Kashmir valley who settled in Allahabad and made the dusty plains of the province of UP their playground- and stranglehold.

And the ubiquitous Marwari traders settled in all corners of the country from the furthest corners of the East to the Southern corners in Tamilnadu.


There is a whole horde of Chinese people who came to India in the early years of the last century. I am sure many of us have had our shoes made by the Chinese shoemakers, enjoyed Chinese cuisine at their restaurants and had our teeth (or dentures) attended to by Chinese dentists.

What about the Afghan Kabuliwallahs who settled in India and carried on their money-lending business?


We are all migrants, some may be conscious of the fact, some may not be. Aren’t you one?

Think about it.

I will return later in this blog and discuss some of the migrants mentioned above.