In Hinduism, practically every aspect of human life is intrinsically connected to religion/ spirituality, whether explicitly known or unknown to the common man. Naming of a baby too falls into the category. Hinduism accepts God with numerous names and forms, though the underlying truth of the Ultimate Reality is one transcending name and form. Hinduism believes that the name of God is very holy and uttering God’s name, consciously or unconsciously has its spiritual benefits.
Naturally, naming of children predominantly with divine names is most prevalent in Hinduism. It is widely believed that by calling out the child, you are in fact uttering the name of a God and by that a spiritual benefit accrues to you. Next to names of Gods, many holy rivers, mountains and hills, and some places associated with Gods, Godly persons, abodes of popular temples etc. are also popularly used in naming of children.
Naming of children based on popular characters in Hindu mythological stories is also practiced. Naming after very popular saints and sages, great personalities, names based on nature, season and celestial beings are also quite prevalent. Naming is also done based on adorable human qualities, aspects of human beauty, etc.
Most predominantly, the names have their origin and meaning in Sanskrit language. Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages of Hinduism and most of the Hindu holy scriptures are in Sanskrit. Ancient Hindu scriptures, mythological stories and hymns in Sanskrit are abundant store-houses of information for sourcing Hindu names.
Other than Sanskrit language, ancient Dravidian languages like Tamil also contain meaningful names that are used by people of specific ethnicity and cultural identity.
Now let us go into details of how to name a Hindu baby, with some examples:
Name the baby after God’s holy names
In Hinduism, as already said, there are innumerable God forms available for worship as suited to the taste, aptitude and temperament of the believer.
Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are the holy trinity of Gods who represent the creation, preservation and destruction functions of the supreme Reality — the Brahman. They are male Gods who have their divine companions in Saraswati, Laksmi and Shakthi respectively, who are female Gods.
While Brahma is not widely worshiped, worship of Vishnu and Shiva and their divine consorts is most widely practiced. Lord Vishnu has “sahasranamam” (thousand names) and a separate Hymn called Vishnu Sahasranamam is available (which is part of the Holy epic, Mahabharata). It is a rich source of Hindu names. For example Lord Vishnu’s names — Hari, Kesav/ Kesavan, Madhav/ Madhavan, Narayan/Narayanan, Govind/Govindan, Vikram/ Vikraman, Vasudev/ Vasudevan, Janardhan/Janardhanan, Sridhar/ Sridharan, Dhamodhar/ Dhamodharan , etc. — are some of the most popular Hindu baby names.
Likewise, Lord Shiva’s popular names — Gangadhar, Mahadev, Mahesh, Sambu, Maheshwar, etc. — are used.
Shakthi, the divine consort of Shiva, is a very popular female God who is considered as the universal mother. Another separate sahasranamam known as Lalitha saharanamam is available as a popular hymn that contains innumerable names of Shakhi. It is a very rich source of female names. For example, Lalitha, Parvathi, Uma, Durga, Gowri, Chandi,Kamakshi, Visalakshi, Maya, Bhavani, Ambika, Bhuvaneshwari, etc.
Other than the holy trinity, Gods like Ganesha, Subramanya and Ayyappa are also worshiped popularly, and hymns in praise of them contain numerous names used popularly for naming children. Examples: Ganapathy, Murugan, Saravanan, Sivakumar, etc.
Name the baby based on God’s ‘Avatar’s
An “Avatar” is God, descended to earth in Human form. Lord Vishnu is believed to take 10 avatars and “Rama” and “Krishna” avatars are the most popular among them. While these two names are extremely popular and widely used Hindu baby names, there are numerous other names of these two (and other avatars) like Raghu, Raghav, etc. for Rama; Gopal, Giridhar, Kannan, Parthasarathy, Vasudeva etc. for Krishna; and Narasimha, Parasuram and others.
The name of Rama’s wife, Sita and her other names like Mythili and Janaki are widely used. The name of Krishna’s childhood companion — Radha, whose love for Krishna is divine — is a very widely used Hindu female name. Names of Bhama and Rukmani, wives of Krishna, are also popular Hindu baby names.
You can also combine God’s names
Another beautiful way of naming is to combine the names of female and male Gods. Examples: Lakshmi Narayan, Sita Ram, Radha Krishnan, Uma Maheshwar (all used as male names). Names of male Gods as identified by their consorts also make great Hindu baby names. Example: Sitapathi, Umapathi, Sripathi (pathi means husband), Srinivas, etc.Combining two names of Gods and combining the name of a God with an attribute are also in vogue.
Example: Rama Krishnan, Shiv Narayan, Rama Subramanyan, Ganapathi Subramanyan, Sivaram, Venkat Ram, Kalyan Raman, Raghuram, Ananta Ram, etc.
Name the Hindu baby after holy rives and places
Rivers are considered feminine. Names of holy rivers — like Ganga (Mandhakini, Bhagirati), Jamuna, Godhavari, Kaveri etc. — are popular female names.
Names of holy mountains, hills and places associated with holiness (which are treated masculine) — like Himadhri, Badri, Kedar, Amarnath, Kailash, Seshadri, Venkatadri, Tirupathi, Ezhumalai, Palani, Annamalai, Madurai, Chidambaram, Kashi, etc. — are also popular Hindu baby names. Some of these names are more specific to south India.
Name the baby after popular mythological characters
Ramayana and Mahabharatha are the two most popular epics of Hinduism. Ramayana contains the story of Rama. Srimad Bhagavatam is another holy mythology containing the story of Lord Krishna and several other divine personalities.
The names of several distinguished characters in these stories are popularly used to name a Hindu baby. For example, Kousalya (mother of Rama), Devaki (mother of Krishna), Sumitra, Bharat, Laksman, Chatrugan, Dasarath, Vibhishan, Guhan, Urmila, Bhishma, Arjun, Draupati, Balaram, Vasudev, Subhadra, Karan, etc. Celestial characters like Ramba, Urvashi, Menaka (the female celestial dancers), Devendra, Indra, Varun, Savita, etc. are also in vogue as Hindu baby names.
Name your Hindu baby after popular saints, sages and personalities
Some such popular names are Ramakrishna, Ramana, Ramadass, Meera, Thukaram, Thyagaraja, Vivekanand, Shivaji, Mohandas, Jawahar, etc.
Name the baby based on nature, celestial objects, etc.
Sun, moon and stars are being used as Hindu baby names: Ravi, Soorya, Aditya, Dhinakar, Dhinesh, Bhaskar (all representing Sun).Indhu, Prabha, Mathi, Nila, Chandra (representing moon).
In Hinduism, the stars are divided into 27 constellations and many of them are used in (mostly female) names like Ashwini, Bharani, Krithika, Rohini, Anuradha, Anusha, Chitra, Revathi, etc. Seasons like Sharat, Basant/Basanti are used as Hindu baby names. Natural elements — Pritvi (earth), Akash (sky), Pawan (Air) etc. — are popular options.
Hindu system of almanac has 60 names of years and they repeat in cycle. Some of the year-names are also used for children born in the specific year e.g. Sowmya, Akshaya, Sarvajit, Vikram, Vijay, Chitrabhanu, etc.
Even different periods of a day like Diva (day), Nishi/ Nisha (night), Usha (pre-dawn), Udhaya (dawn), Sandhya (twilight) are used as Hindu baby names. Several names of flowers — Mallika (jasmine), Padma, Kamala, Komala, Pankaja (all representing lotus), Roja (rose), Pushpa (flower) are popularly used. All these are female names.Name the baby with meaningful Sanskrit words.
The beauty of Sanskrit language is that almost all of the names that we discussed above have meanings. Other than those, there are plenty of names in vogue that have very significant meanings related to adorable divine and human qualities, beauty of human features, etc. In fact, the sahasranamams that we mentioned above contain plenty of divine attributes and qualities of the Gods that become representative of the God him/herself. Thus a plethora of “names of attributes” are available as Hindu baby names.
Some examples of male names: Purushotam (greatest among men), Ajay/ Ajit (unconquerable), Padmanabhan (Lotus-navelled), Chakrapani (Carrier of Wheel), Kothandapani (carrier of Bow) Chandrachud (wearer of moon in head), Akshai (deathless), Sukumar (good son), Abhai (Fearless), Anand (Bliss), Vinai (obedient) etc.
Some examples of female names: Shanti/Shanta (peace), Subhashini (sweet talker), Vijaya (conquerer), Sowmya, Sulakshana (beautiful), Sukanya (good daughter), Kamakshi (Ruler of passions), Sunayna (Beautiful-eyed), Priya (lovable), Sushila (Good conduct), Anandhi (Bliss), Subha (auspicious), shobha (glow), and so on.
Shri (wealthy and prosperous) is another name of Lakshmi which is popularly combined with other female names – Jayashri, Subhashri, Nityashri, Rajashree etc
As mentioned earlier, region- or language-specific meaningful names are also popular when naming Hindu babies. For example, in Tamil, some popular female names are Kayalvizhi (fish-eyed), Thenmozhi (nectar like words), Mangayarkarasi (Queen among woman), Selvi (the wealthy), Pattu (silk), Ponni (Goldie), etc.
Know about naming conventions
All the names given above are used as first names. Generally, people belonging to a particular sect of religion will follow names generally used within their sect. For example, orthodox worshipers of Vishnu would normally restrict naming their children with names associated with Vishnu or his divine consort Lakshmi. Usage of names belonging to Christianity or Islam is neither practiced nor encouraged.
A typical Hindu name generally consists of a first name, optionally a second/last name and a surname. The second name could be the name of the father, or a traditional hereditary name. The surname is again based on heredity and lineage and it could indicate the caste; a sub-sect of the religious following; the traditional profession of ancient forefathers; the identity of a clan or the name of the originating place of the clan; or the name of the ancient house, etc. It all depends on the traditions and practices of the family and the region they belong to.
In the present generation, the practice of adding the name of the caste as a surname is discouraged. There is also a growing tendency to use only short and sweet names that are not particularly identifiable to any God. In south India (Tamil Nadu), only the first name is used and (the second name or) father’s name is used just in initials.
In many families naming the baby after the grand-father or grand-mother is practiced; In the present generation, however, such practices are being given a go-by.
Know about naming after religious conversions.
India has traditionally been a melting pot of various religions. Historically, invasions from Moghals and the British brought together conversion of innumerable people from Hinduism to Islam and Christianity. Those who convert to Islam take up conventional Islamic names. Under Christianity, while typical Christian names are generally adopted, there are also flexible cases of co-existence of some Hindu names juxtaposed with a Christian name. Examples: Robert Rajasekhar, John Desikar, Joseph Sathyanathan, Daniel Arulraj,
Another interesting development happening in the past few years is the influx of westerners to India in search of a more meaningful life through the understanding and practicing of Hinduism. Many of them come under the care of revered Saints and Sages in India and after a period of initiation, quite a large number of them willfully seek change of their names to typical Hindu names.