Explain to me (Asian) Indian names

The people of Indian descent that I have known here in the United States have had what a Westerner would consider fairly “normal” names - by which I mean “First-name Surname”, such as “Risha Shah”. It never occurred to me to wonder if they might have been anglicized.

Several years ago, my company opened branches in Gurgaon and Chennai, and in that time the people working there have become a larger and larger proportion of the associates in my department. The names that many of them are listed under have become bewildering to me.

For instance, take “James Prokhabar C” and “C Danuoosh”, both of whom work in the same position under me out of, IIRC, Gurgaon. (Those are not their real names, but a close approximation.) Is C a first name or a surname? Can it be both, and their names are both in the typical Western order (or both reversed)?

Is C actually the full name, for that matter, or is it just an initial? Is “James Prokhabar” a first name and middle name, or is the surname “Prokhabar C”?

One of my exes is Bihari; he tried to explain Indian names to me, but it’s complicated by the fact there’s like 200 languages in India and numerous cultures, all of which have different naming traditions.

According to him, South Indians have really long names that they usually abbreviate. I don’t know if this is just for business or if they do so in personal life, too. They also don’t seem to have quite the same concept of ‘middle names’ and ‘surnames’ as we do – my ex’s father had three names, but my ex used the second of those names as his surname (sort of like if your father was John David Thompson, and you went by James Stuart David).

I’ve known a couple of fellows with such names personally (fellow grad students), and they both go by their first syllable in informal contexts.

Oh, yeah, I’m familiar with those. I’d never dare to try to spell one here without an actual example, but they often have 15 to 20 letters. I’ve also never dared try to say one of those out loud.

It never occurred to me that they might be the one letter people.

What the others say is true; South Indian names usually are long. My legal name is S. Indian and long; though I am not, my parents liked the name. I go by a shortened version of it. To be truthful, I don’t like when outsiders (read: non-Indians) say my full name, they can never say it exactly right and all too often butcher it completely and try. It only irritates me when they say names like “Wawryziniec” just fine and then think mine is weird.

North Indian names are normally a little shorter. Names like Rajesh, Anand, Ajay, Dheeraj, Pratik, Anita, Seema, Nisha, these are the names I am more familiar with.

Oh, and our names are in the same order, as far as I know - person’s name then family name. Perhaps some sects in India have it differently though.

I posted this same question a while back.

Heh! Is this sort of like Italians giving their child a very Scandinavian first name, like Ingrid? I wonder if other Indians are ever a little perplexed when they meet you.

My ex’s name was Rakesh, and his brother was Ramesh (no, they are not twins!).

My experience here with co-workers has generally been first two syllables (out of 4). e.g. “Dara” for “Darashana”, and “Charu” for “Charukesi” – though I never heard anyone abbreviate “Arunima”. (All of these folks have 4 syllable last names too).

My family is from South India. The traditional naming convention in our community for males is:

[Caste Designation or Community Name] [Family Name] [Given Name]

The result of this is that people using this naming convention (who belong to the same community or caste) will have the same first name and different last names.

However, for reasons which I have not been able to determine, some families in the community traditionally used the following convention:

[Family Name] [Given Name] [Caste Designation or Community Name]

Large numbers of our community have immigrated to the US. For their first generation children, some of them have chose the following naming convention:

[Given Name] [Caste Designation or Community Name] [Family Name] [Father’s Given Name]

This approximates the US convention of having the given name first, and keeps the child’s last name the same as the father’s last name (because the father’s given name is his last name).

Other members of our community have chosen the following naming conventions for the first generation children:

[Given Name] [Caste Designation or Community Name] [Family Name]


[Given Name] [Family Name] [Caste Designation or Community Name]

This follows the US naming convention, but has the effect of the first generation child having a different last name than the father. Subsequent generations wouldn’t have this problem, however. (I’m named according to the latter convention)

For women, this is a bit trickier. From what I can tell, many women traditionally only had their given name. However, these were the traditional naming conventions used for women in our community:

[Given Name] [Father’s Given Name]

or (but I’ve rarely seen this):

[Given Name] [Family Name]

After marriage, the wife would use the following convention:

[Given Name] [Husband’s Given Name]

or possibly:

[Given Name] [Husband’s Family Name] [Husband’s Given Name]

and I’ve seen this one for women:

[Given Name] [Wife’s Family Name] [Husband’s Given Name]

and this one too:

[Given Name] [Wife’s Family Name] [Husband’s Family Name] [Husband’s Given Name]

But all the older married women I’ve seen always have their Husband’s Given Name as their last name.

And I’ve never seen a woman in our community use the traditional naming conventions for males (which I described above). However, the first generation naming conventions which I listed above for the children of immigrants is being used for females as well as males.

And if that’s not complicated enough:

Members of our community who are still in India are beginning to adopt the naming convention which the US immigrants have adopted.

These naming conventions are for our community. Different communities will have different conventions, however I think something close to this is fairly widespread in South India.

As for the initials, it’s common to initialize the first two names when using the traditional naming convention for males. It’s also common to initialize lengthy names as stated above.

I worked with a guy called JK.

This was short for Jaikrishnan.

But Jaikrishnan itself is short for Ramalamadingdongkrishnattamalahalla or something like that. He told me basically I would never be able to pronounce it, so don’t bother even trying.


*Tried To Read, Head Asploded

Finally, something I am unquestionably qualified to answer!

Traditionally, south Indian names have three parts - the name of your ancestral town or village, your father’s name, and a given name. What confuses people who are not familiar with this scheme is that the given name is last on the list. To take an example, I have a cousin whose name is (changed to protect the innocent) K.R. Rajeev.

K is the first letter of his father’s village, R is the first letter of his father’s given name, and his own given name is Rajeev, although most people call him Raju.

A lot of people in south India still have names that follow this pattern, which in some ways is very convenient, because it’s a sort of potted family history. Increasingly, however, people of my generation (and even my parents’ generation) have adopted the firstname lastname convention. Quite frankly, it’s a lot easier than being called Doddaballapur Mahabalarao Jaithirthrao.

Nope. As I stated above, in our community, the father’s given name is not used for male children’s names. While the naming convention you depict is certainly widely in use, it’s not by any means universal in South India.

Secondly, while it is common to have the ancestral town or village as the first name, you will often find a caste signifier as the first name instead. Although I have seen the caste signifier placed at the end as well.

If you repost the entire thing, it ain’t gonna get an easier to read. :stuck_out_tongue:

True dat.

Agree! In my case though, my parents kindly spared me the whole mess and named me a simple Firstname-Middlename-Lastname combo. Which makes everyone who meets me think that I was adopted.

Although Japanese find this waay too complex to grok, so I just go with my first name, and lie that my middle name is my family name. (It spares me the exact discussion in the OP)

In other words, I should give up trying to make any sort of assumption, and ask each person what they wish to be called. :slight_smile:

Other Indians are often perplexed when they meet me, yes, and have only heard my name. I look Punjabi which is far northern. It amuses me. :slight_smile:

But get this one. My ex, who was South Indian, was named Joel. Hee.

I worked with a guy once whose last name was Thiruvenagadaswamy. Since I had to write his name and introduce him once, I learned how to say and spell it. Took some practice.

He just went by “Ragu,” his first name, most of the time. And my understanding is that that was a shortening of his real first name.

Two anecdotes – two male Indian friends of mine have told me that their “middle names” are intended to carry on in perpetuity (assuming an unbroken male lineage; and assuming a continuation of the naming tradition). Their “middle names” are the same as their fathers’, grandfathers’, great-grandfathers’, etc.

Neither of these two friends are Southern Indian. One is Punjabi-speaking Sikh from Amritsar (middle name: Singh), the other is a Marathi-speaking Hindu from Mumbai (middle name: Sadashiv).

Since these “middle names” continue on through the generations, might Singh and Sadashiv actually be caste or community designations?