Archive for August 2010

Translation 22. Cultural Content of Given Names. The Case of Hindi

30 August 2010

For the curious student of foreign languages and cultures, the influence of dominant national religions is often visually or audibly embedded in the language, especially in vocabulary and idiom and, as we shall see below, in people’s first, or given, names.

In English, with the decline in influence of the various Christian churches, the deliberate choice by parents of given names with strong Christian connotations has waned, especially in the cases of Faith, Hope, Charity, Comfort, Constance, Grace (Gracie), Epiphany, and Patience. With many others, the survival of the names usually has more to do with their acceptability and sound than with solid religious associations.
For example:
Adam, Benedict, Benjamin, Candace, Christian, Christopher, Dominic, Eve. (As further proof of this decline, the former descriptor for English language given names was the Christian name but this term is no longer officially recommended or accepted in most English-speaking countries because of far-reaching social and cultural changes in the past 50 years.

In other European languages the religious link is still strong, or at least stronger than in English, notably in southern predominantly (at least in name) Catholic Europe. For example, in spite of the massive decline of catholicism in Spain since the demise of dictator Franco and in some other Spanish-speaking countries, many children are still baptised as:
Anunciación, Concepción, Inmaculada (immaculate), Natividad (the Nativity), Encarnación (incarnation), Ascensión, Martirio (martyrdom), Esperanza (Hope), Consuelo (Consolation), Milagros (Miracles), Jesusa, Dolores (María de los Dolores), Cruz (Cross – as noun rather than adjective);
Amparo (Protection), María del Pilar (Mary of the Pillar), Mercedes (Mercies), Rosario (rosary), Caridad (Charity), Paz (Peace).

Similarly, the following boy’s names are still bestowed upon infants in Spanish-speaking countries:
Jesús, Salvador (Saviour), José, (Joseph), José María (Joseph and Mary), Santos, (Saints), Angel, Angel María, and Miguel Angel.

In Jewish families, religion-related given names are still current and strongly retain their cultural semantic connotations:
Aaron, Abraham, Adam, Benjamin, Daniel, David, Ephraim, Esther, Hannah, Isaac, Jacob, Jeremiah, Jonathan, Joshua, Moses, Noah, Rachel, Rebecca, Ruth, Samuel, Sarah, Solomon.

In India, a sizeable minority of the population are Muslims and bear Muslim names deriving from Arabic, Persian and Urdu:
Abdul, Ahmed, Ali, Anwar, Asif, Aziz, Feroz, Hussein, Imran, Irfan, Irshad, Karim,
Mirza, Mohammed, Nasim, Nur, Rahim, Said, Salim, Salman, Samir, Saroj, Sayid, Tahir, Tariq,Yusuf, Zakir, etc.

However, the overwhelming majority of Indians (approximately 80%) identify themselves as Hindu and bear names so closely associated with aspects of Hindu spirituality and culture that many of them are also nouns or adjectives in Sanskrit or in Hindi, its derivative or descendant.

Since these Hindi/Sanskrit names are still far less well known in the wider English-speaking world outside (largely English-speaking) India than the others offered above and since they are featured in the global media more and more often due to India’s increasing economic and geopolitical development and will continue to grow in global importance for English speakers (and others), I present a small selection in this overview of the links between culture / religion and language.

Apart from my own reading, travel and study, I am relying heavily here on the glosses offered in a very rich, tentacular interconnected website for ALL Given Names, that of Mike Campbell, which I recommend for further and deeper study: Behind the Name. The Etymology and History of First Names

The following is a selection of female and male Hindi or Sanskrit names which will be met in travel in India as well as in the media and on the Internet, and, of course, more and more, in Bollywood films and in the literary and sporting worlds.

Abhishek, m, anointment
Aishwarya, f, prosperity
Ajeet / Ajit, m, unconquered
Amar, immortal [cf. Amartya Sen]
Amitabh, m, shining (Buddha) [as in Bachchan]
Ananda, f, bliss
Aravind, m, lotus
Arjun, m, clear
Aseema, f, boundless
Ashok, m, without sorrow

Bharat, India
Dev, m, god
Devdas, m, servants of the gods
Devi, f, goddess
Divya, f, divine
Gauri, f, goddess Parvati
Gita, f, song [Bhagavad Gita]
Gopal, m, cow protector [Krishna]
Govind, m, cow herder [Krishna] [Sikh version: Gobind]

Jagdish, m , ruler of the world
Jay, m, victory
Jayant, m, victorious
Jyoti, f, light
Kalyana, m, beautiful [also a beer]
Kamal, m, lotus
Kiran, f, sunbeam
Krishna, m, dark blue; Krishna
Lakshmi, f, female deity

Madhu, f, honey
Mahesh, m, great Lord
Maya, f, illusion
Mohan, m, charming
Narendra, m, lord of man
Nirmala, f, pure

Padma, f, lotus
Pankaj, m, lotus
Prabhu, n, mighty
Pradeep, m, lantern
Priya, f, beloved
Purushottam, m, the best amongst men

Radha,f, flower [& Krishna’s female companion]
Raj, m, king
Rajesh, m, king + Isha (deity)
Rajneesh, m, lord of the night
Ram, Rama, m, Lord Rama
Ramesh, Rama + Isha (deity)
Rani, f, queen
Ravi, m, sun

Sachin, m, pure
Sanjay, m, triumphant
Sati, f, truthful
Satya, m, truth
Shanti, f, peace
Sunil, m, positive prefix + blue [Krishna-like?]
Suraj, m, sun
Venkat, m, a reference to Vishnu
Vijay, m, victory
Vikram, m, distinction.