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

The Geography of Names

December 17, 2009

Here is a quick quiz: What is common to Arindam, Arunava and Anindya? Or Buddhadev, Biswadeep? Or Sushmita, Sucharita, Suparna and Sudeshna? All names you say? Or, the A names are men’s and the S’, females. Some of the more enlightened ones would say these are all Indian names. Those who are even more clued in would say they are all names of Bengali men and woman! You are all right, but the last observation regarding the names being Bengali names is spot-on.

Ok, here is one more question. What is common to Vikas, Viraat and Vipul? Sure they all start with a “V”, tell me more! Of course the geography! These are names from the North India, typically from around Delhi. And nearly all those you know bearing the aforementioned names are from the North! Right? As are the below-mentioned ladies : Sushma, Sapna, Manisha.

Try this one now: Where would you find these gents from; Dharmesh, Jayesh, Hemal or Keyur. Sure, all from Gujarat. Like this ladies, Bijal, Snehal, Minal, Parul, Amisha.

This last one, a sitter. Take this set of male names: Ramakrishnan, Gopalan, Balaraman, Karthikeyan. Or these names of females: Srividya, Soundarya, Sreedevi. All South Indian, right?

Ditto for these Maharashtrian names for men: Dattatreya, Ajinkya and Avadhoot.

This may not be of much surprise to you if I tell you if all these names are Sanskrit in origin, each one of them.

Why is it that despite being perfectly Sanskrit in origin, one set of names enjoys such importance in one region while the other set dominates the other? Have you heard of an Indian with these first names? Like Anindya Pandey? Or Buddhaadev Singh? Or Karthikeyan Yadav? Like you would find Abhijit Iyer, Anindya Iyengar and Buddhadev Gowda pretty uncommon. Or Vikas Wadekar, Viraat Patil and Vipul Desai uncommon too! Or for that matter uncommon are Keyur Chatterjee, Jayesh Ghosh and Dharmesh Sengupta.

I have no answer to this! And I would request you to help me with the why’s and why not’s.

I must apologize for generalizing my observations, but what I wrote above is the rough picture, sure you could find someone who does not conform to what I have mentioned earlier. I may have even mentioned some pretty obscure names, but those would pretty much belong to the state I indicated. So Sushma Raghavan, Karthikeyan Desai, Dattatreya Chaturvedi, please excuse me.

Sure there are names deeply rooted in a regional language. Like the Tamil names like Anbazhagan, Tamilrasan, Kanimozhi or Azhagiri. The current Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Thiru M. Karunanidhi has been concerned about the influence of Sanskrit (read Aryan) nomenclature in Tamilnadu and has announced a special incentive of a gold ring to any family which gives their baby a Tamil name. Never mind Karuna Nidhi is very much a Sanskrit expression. And the name of his influential younger son Stalin is far away from Sanskrit, or even Tamil. Not to mention the names of his grand nephews, Kala Nidhi and Daya Nidhi with whom he has a blow-hot, blow-cold relation. Sure enough, Karunanidhi gave one of his sons, Azhagiri, a typical Tamil name. But the poor soul had to modify it to Alagiri when he became a cabinet minister in Delhi as no non-South Indian babu, or a non South Indian favor seeker could ever pronounce his name; he has temporarily rechristened himself Alagiri.

But there is one set of names I can perhaps figure out.

You may all have heard of this sometime Hindi film actor and now a TV stand-up comedian (he also dabbled into politics recently), Shekhar Suman. But have you had someone you knew called Shashank Shekhar, Prasanna Raghav or Piyush Ranjan. If you have not, let me tell you; there are very high chances that these may be Biharis. Not that Suman, Shekhar, Raghav or Ranjan are Bihari surnames. In fact these are not even surnames, but just stand-alone proper nouns. Shekhar Sinha, Shashank Tiwari, Prasanna Roy and Piyush Singh could be their real names. But the surnames denote the caste (Sinha= kayastha or bhumihar, Tiwari= Brahmin, Roy= Bhumihar and Singh= Rajput or Bhumihar or a million other castes). An upwardly mobile family would like to hide the caste connotation in their kids’ name and hence reverts to this device. Bihar, if you do not know, is terribly, terribly, caste-conscious….. and caste-driven.

Something else now; now on the geographical commonality of names:

Think of the following names: Santosh, Kiran, and Pradeep. Which region do they belong to? I suspect, none in particular.

I, Santosh Ojha, a Bihari, have met a Santhosh Jacob Kuruvilla from Kerala (he was a classmate and a close friend), a Santokh Kaur from Punjab (never mind if she is a female) and a Santosh Divekar from Pune.

And lo and behold I am married to a Kiran (very much a Bihari), I know a neighbour who is very much a Kannadiga, Kiran Shetty. I know of the famous Kiran Bedi, a true-blue Amritsar origin female from Punjab. I have also heard about  Kiran Singh from Rajasthan. Also a Pradip Singh from UP, Prodeep  Chatterjee from Burdwan, West Bengal (notice the “o” replacing the “a” as the concession to the Bengali style of pronouncing) and KVST Pradhip from Vizag, Andhra Pradesh (notice the “h” following the “d” in the manner of South Indian pronunciation. (My name always gets spelt as “Santhosh” in the South.)

I am confused. Totally! Which names apply where? Which types of names are pan-Indian, which are geography-specific. I have not the faintest.


PS: Names have always fascinated me. There must be deep historical, sociological and economic significance to names. As would be the difference in time and space. I have explored the former (the time factor) in an earlier post of mine.  Find it here in Gulabo and Gulabchand etc.