First take on Indian names

What I learned about Indian names so far. There are thoughs though.

One – this is fast-changing matter with growing westernization – which here means passing down same surname or family-name for generations. I don’t know how large the trend is, but couple of my sources told me about it.

Two – India is really large and is home to many cultures. Obviously, you’ll find cases which are slightly or vastly different from what I wrote down here. Not to mention cases I wrote nothing about. 🙂

So… Ask your Indian colleagues and friends what they think and let me know. 😉 I’ll gladly learn more. Also, almost all names here are real names of real people. Use Google / Wiki and learn.



In general, then:

  1. Blame the British. They wanted a system they knew, colony had to adjust. 😛
  2. It depends on place of birth (India is vast, customs differ per area).
  3. It usually follows a three-part pattern, where parts will differ per area / custom / culture.
    1. Common enough that people with no middle part may have visa problems, I read.
  4. Most common would be Given name – Middle name – Family name.
  5. For any part of a name to be more than one word is common. Too long names are often abbreviated to just initials (especially true for place of origin). Initials are also used to differentiate people with same names (just as they are with Western names).
  6. Woman often take their spouse’s (sur)name as their second name.
  7. With so many naming traditions, expect the exception to be common enough to be the rule someplace. 😛



So far I found no surefire way to know which part is abbreviated just by looking.

Mind the order though: CV Raman, can be same person as RV Chandrasekhara, because he gave his name differently (as in, name last, as usually happens in India or name first, Western-style).  Full name for this example is Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, where

  • Chandrasekhara is father’s name and acts as a surname
  • Venkata is father’s middle name and acts as a middle name
  • Raman is a given name.

Sikh names

Sikhs (though not only) use “Singh” / “Kaur” as the middle name for all men / women. This means “Lion” / “Princess” and was ordered by tenth guru, to eradicate judging by caste / occupation and strenghten equality.

Hindu names

India is home to many religions, hinduism being one of most common. There are some rules about names there.

It may surprise you to learn that a person with a name of a male (like Krishna) is actually female. That is because names of saints (avatara) and gods (devas) may be used for other genders as well. Usually though they are only part of a given name (Ravikrishna).

Hindu names can grow with honorifics like

  1. Sree / Shree / Sri (roughly: Sir), like Sridhar Jaltaru.
  2. Maa (Mother), like Anandamayi Maa.
  3. Ji (heart, spirit, meaning Sir/Lady usually),
  4. Sreemata (like Sree, but for woman, roughly: Lady).
  5. Bapu (means sir / minister and often is used for highly educated males).

These titles may be added to a name as a syllable (Prabhuji) or a separate word (Anandpuri Ji).

Some may be repeated, like Sri Sri Shivakura Swamiji. This is used for respect, in some cases I hear it may be repeated 108 and 1008 times (holy numbers). I do wonder how it looks on official documents! 😀

South Indian names

Most complex of them all. In the South (excluding Sikh, covered above), men use:

  1. given name – single or multiple words, derived from common names, family elders’ names, names of deities or from one’s `raasi` / zodiac sign.
  2. father’s first name – common in Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra but not only there
  3. family origin – where did the family come from, their roots, often village name
  4. caste – India used caste system, with Kshatriyas, Brahmins, Vaishyas and Shudras. Some names denote that still, like Reddy for warriors/kings, Sharma for teachers/priests/ministers etc.
  5. `gotra` – paternal lineage (patriline) or clan. ‘I am Name-gotra’ means I can trace an unbroken male line from Name to myself. Very strictly looked at when considering marriage (in high castes especially) though with caste system abolished now, perhaps somewhat less important. Older people might have hints to caste and gotra in their names, but trend is to drop these nowadays. Some gotra names would be Bharadwaja, Harita, Kashyap.


Links to my sources:


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