Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 3 : 4 April 2003

Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.




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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai




Onomastics is the study of names. It is an interesting discipline. The study of how names in a society are formed, and what underlying processes and concepts are involved in their formation and use provide an insight into the culture and social psychology of that society.


Most Hindu personal names are derived from the names of gods, rivers, seasons, certain qualities, virtues, etc. For example, Mahadev (pronounced as Mahadeva in south India) is the name of Lord Shiva, one of the three major Hindu gods. It literally means "great god." Dayananda means 'the joy of compassion': daya means 'compassion' and ananda means 'joy'. The name of the native place also forms a part of the names of most south Indians. For example, the name U.R. Rao may stand for Udupi Ramachandra Rao, Udupi being the native place and Ramachandra being father's name.


In this article an attempt is made to analyze the Assamese Hindu personal names given to males. Only male names are selected this time around. The female names are kept outside the purview of this study, as they will form part of a future study.

I selected fifty personal names for this study. The selection was random and not based on any established parameters. The study was aimed at examining the basis for the formation of Hindu personal names in Assamese.


This analysis revealed that neither father's name nor place name is suffixed or prefixed to any Assamese personal name. An Assamese personal name typically consists of two segments: a first name and a surname. For example, the name Dr. Bhupen Hazarika (the legendary singer of Assam, Dadasaheb Phalke awardee, and currently the President of Sangeet Natak Academy) has these two segments. Bhupen is actually the shortened form of Bhupendra, which means 'king of the earth.' Historically, Hazarika was the rank of an officer who was in charge of one thousand soldiers during the Ahom rule in Assam. In course of time this title became the surname, and the subsequent generations inherited it.

Some Assamese personal names consist of three segments, namely, first name, middle name, and surname. The first name is the name given by parents, and surname is inherited. The middle name generally does not carry much significance. Yet the deletion of the same may render it informal. In other words, in informal situations the middle is generally omitted. For example, the late Dr. Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya, the Gnanapeeth (highest literary award in India) winner (and incidentally my maternal grandfather, being my mother's uncle), and president of the Central Sahitya Academy was popularly known as Biren Bhatta. There is a complete transformation, as one can see it. Birendra becomes Biren, a process commonly found in Assamese as well as Bengali names, Kumar is completely omitted, and Bhattacharya is shortened to Bhatta. However, such transformations are not permitted in a formal setting.


An analysis of these fifty names has shown that Assamese Hindu male personal names are mostly derived from Sanskrit words denoting expressions of gods, stars, planets, satellites, rivers, mountains, hills, flowers, different manifestations of nature, jewels, mental condition, name of month, day, etc.


Accordingly, the names are classified as follows. Note that the Officers in the list below can be understood to be officers of the Ahom kings.

  1. Names related to gods - Eleven out of this list of fifty names are found to refer to gods.
    1. Iswar Prasad Barua - Iswar (written as pronounced and spelt by Assamese people) means God. Prasad means bestowal or gift. Barua is the rank of an officer under Ahom kings of Assam.
    2. Bhagwan Dutta Saikia - Bhagawan - God. Dutta - bestowal or Gift. Saikia - rank of an officer over one hundred soldiers.
    3. Mahadev Phukan - Mahadev - Lord Shiva, Phukan - rank of an officer.
    4. Bisnuram Medhi - Bisnu - Lord Vishnu, Ram - Lord Ram, Medhi - officers appointed by satras (vaishnavite maths) to collect contributions from the disciples.
    5. Lakhminath Bezbarua - Lakhminath - consort of goddess Lakshmi, i.e. Lord Vishnu; Bezbarua - medical officer.
    6. Maheshwar Neog : Maheshwar -Lord Shiva. Neog - An officer (especially of Intelligence).
    7. Mukti Nath Sarma: Mukti - salvation, Nath - Master (Muktinath means giver of salvation i.e. Lord Shiva), Sarma - surname used by Brahmins (Sharma elsewhere in the country is pronounced Sarma in Assamese).
    8. Bisnu Prasad Rabha: Bisnu - Lord Vishnu. Prasad - bestowal, Rabha - name of an ethnic community in Assam.
    9. Gopinath Bordoloi: Gopi - milkwoman Nath- master. Gopinath together means Lord Krishna. Bordoloi - chief astrologer of Ahom kings.
  2. Names related to mind/state of mind
    1. Bodheswar Hazarika: Bodh - power of understanding, Iswar - God, Hazarika (already explained).
    2. Moneshwar Kalita: Mon - mind, Kalita (pronounced Kolita) - name of an Assamese upper caste.
    3. Tosheshwar Hatibarua: Tosh - satisfaction, ishwar - God, Hatibarua - an officer.
  3. Names related to seasons
    1. Ritu Kumar Sarma: Ritu - season, Kumar - bachelor, Sarma - surname used by Brahmins.
    2. Basanta Borpujari: Basanti - spring, Bor - Head/priest, Pujari - priest.
    3. Hemanta Saikia: Hemanta - autumn, Saikia - (already explained)
    4. Sarat Kotoky: Sarat - the third season of six Indian seasons, Kotoky - an emissary.
  4. Names related to jewels/metals
    1. Ratnadhar Barkotoki - Ratna - jewel; Dhar- the holder; Barkataki - chief accounts officer.
    2. Hiranath Barman - Hira -diamond, nath - master, owner; Barman - surname used by warrior community.
    3. Manik Barua - Manik -gem; Barua - already explained.
    4. Sonadhar Dolakasoria - Son/sona - gold; Dola -palanquin; Kasoria - by the side of; Dolakasoria - security guards by the side of the king's palanquin.
    5. Rupnath Barua - Rup - silver/beauty/shape; nath - owner, Barua - already explained
    6. Mukuta Bora - Mukuta - pearl; Bora - An officer over 20 soldiers.
    7. Maniram Dewan - Mani - gem; Ram - Lord Ram; Dewan - minister

  5. Names related to Month/Day etc.
    1. Moghai Ojah: Moghai - one born in the month of Magh (10th month of Hindu calendar); Ojah - teacher, instructor
    2. Puhai Bez: Puhai - one born in the month of Puh (9th month of Hindu calendar); Bez - faith healer
    3. Aghona Haloi: Aghona - one born in the month of Aghon (7th month of Hindu calendar); Haloi - Sweetmeat maker
    4. Budhai Dutta: Budhai - one who is born on Wednesday; Dutta - bestowal. The important point to note here is that names under this category are found archaic and are not found commonly.

  6. Names related to flower and fruit
    1. Golap Borbora: Golap - rose, Bor-chief; Bora - officer over 20 soldiers
    2. Padum Barua: Padum - lotus, Barua - already explained.
    3. Dalim Gogoi: Dalim - pomegranate; Gogoi - a surname used by Ahoms

  7. Names related to river, sea etc.
    1. Sagar Bormudoi: Sagar - sea; Bor - chief/main; Mudoi - trader, dealer
    2. Luit Das: Luit - local name of the river Brahmaputra; Das - servant (of god)
    3. Lohit Kumar Rajbangshi: Lohit - Another name of tiver Brahmaputra; Kumar - Bachelor, young one; Rajbangshi - an ethnic community

  8. Names related to food items
    1. Makhan Chandra Buragohain: Makhan -butter; Chandra - moon; Buragohain - Prime Minister of Ahom kings.
    2. Dadhi Barik: Dadhi - curd; Barik - officer for collecting revenue from satras (Vaishnavite maths)

  9. Names related to beauty, physical strength, wealth, etc.
    1. Bitupon Bujarbarua: Bitupon - lovely, beautiful; Bujarbarua - intelligence officer of the Ahom kings
    2. Bolobhadra Das: Bol - strength, energy; Bhadra - civilized; Das - servant (of god)
    3. Dhaniram Bailung: Dhani - rich; Ram - Lord Ram; Bailung - astrologer and Priest of Ahom community
    4. Joyram Khaund: Joy - victory; Ram - Lord Ram; Khaund - officer in charge of immersing ashes of Ahom kings in the Ganges
    5. Loknath Bharali: Lok - people, Nath - master; Bharali - storekeeper
    6. Mohan Gayen: Mohan - mesmerizing; Gayen - singer of Assamese folk song.

  10. Names with non-Sanskrit Origin
Though Assamese has many personal names derived from the surrounding tribal languages and Tai language (the language of the Ahoms who ruled Assam for six hundred years before the British), only one name has been identified from this list of fifty words.
Lachit Barphukan: La-seven(Tai); Chit -son(Tai); Barphukan - the rank of Viceroy of lower Assam during the reign of Ahom kings. This rank was conferred as a great honour.
Lachit Barphukan has been the all time hero of Assam, considered as the epitome of courage, valour and patriotism. It was this great general who defeated the Mughal army of Aurangzeb at Soraighat, i.e. the banks of the Brahmaputra.


  1. Analysis of Hindu personal names gives an insight into the social psychology of the community. Study with a larger sample will give further insight.
  2. The caste of the individual is never revealed in the first name. Surnames do reveal the caste sometimes, but not always.
  3. First names are derived from various sources as identified and classified above. Middle names are drawn from a smaller pool, generally Prasad, Kumar, Ram, Chandra, Nath, etc
  4. Most of the surnames came from the ranks given by Ahom kings but these names are inherited now.

I acknowledge with gratitude the help and encouragement I received from my grandfather Mr. Muktinath Sarma, an advocate, teacher, and history scholar.

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