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Burmese names lack the serial structure of most Western names. The Burmans have no customary matronymic or patronymic system and thus there is no surname at all. In the culture of Myanmar, people can change their name at will, often with no government oversight, to reflect a change in the course of their lives. Also, many Burmese names use an honorific, given at some point in life, as an integral part of the name.
Table of contents
- Traditional and Western-style names
- Astrology-based naming system
Traditional and Western-style names
Burmese names were originally one syllable, as in the cases of U Nu and U Thant ("U" being an honorific). In the mid-20th century, many Burmese started using two syllables, albeit without any formal structure. In the late 1890s, British scholars observed that Rakhines commonly adopted three-syllable names whereas Burmans were still using one or two at most. As they become more familiar with Western culture, Burmese people are gradually increasing the number of syllables in their children's names, by use of various structures. Today, names with up to four syllables are common for men and up to five for women.
Scholars such as Thant Myint-U have argued that the rise of complex Burmese personal names resulted from the collapse of the Burmese monarchy, which ended the sophisticated system of Pali-Burmese styles, crown service and gentry titles, leaving the majority of Burmese with single-syllable names. Former titles, such as min (????; "leader") were re-appropriated as part of personal names.
For example, Burmese nationalist Aung San's parents were named Pha (??) and Suu (??), both of which are single-syllable names. His birth name was Htain Lin (????????), but he changed his name to Aung San (?????????) later in life. His child is named Aung San Suu Kyi (???????????????). The first part of her name, "Aung San", is from her father's name at the time of her birth. "Suu" comes from her grandmother. "Kyi" comes from her mother, Khin Kyi (???????). The addition of the father or mother's name in a person's name is now quite frequent, although it does not denote the development of a family name. Other nomenclature systems are used as well.
The use of the names of one's parents and relatives in personal names has been criticized as an un-Burmese adoption of seriality, although it differs from historical Western practices.
Burman names commonly include Pali-derived words combined with native Burmese words, including:
Burmese people who marry foreigners or move to countries that use surnames may use their name as if part of it represented a family name. For example, Tun Myint's wife changed her last name to Myint, but Myint is part of his personal name.
- sanda (????? "moon", from canda)
- thanda (????? "coral", from santa)
- thiri (???? "splendour", from siri)
- hayma (????, "forest", compare Himalayas)
- thura (??? "brave, gallant" from sura)
- thiha (??? "lion", from siha)
- zeya (????? "victory", from jaya)
- wunna (?????????? "best", from kaung)
See also: Burmese Buddhist titles
As above, honorifics supplement a given name, and can be the normal form of address used both in writing and in speech, especially with a name of one or two syllables. Widespread use of honorifics is found within all cultures in the Burmese region. Although some ethnic groups have special honorifics, these words are recognized and applied by other groups (rather than being translated).
For example, Aung San's parents are more generally known as U Pha and Daw Suu. These can be translated as "Mr. Pha" and "Ms. Suu" but are often used more informally.
Some common honorifics used in Burmese include:
- Ashin (????? or ??????), Monks, nobles, and rarely, for women (e.g. Ashin Jinarakkhita)
- Binnya, Banya (???? or ???), To indicate royalty and nobility, from Mon ??? (e.g. Binnya U)
- Bo, Bogyoke (????? or ??????????), Military officers (e.g., Bogyoke Aung San)
- Baya/Phaya (?????, lit. 'God'), used to address Buddha, kings, monks, bishops and high ranking members of royalty
- Daw (????), Mature women or women in a senior position (e.g. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi)
- Duwa (??????), Kachin chiefs
- Gyi (????), As a suffix to show respect (e.g. Khin-gyi Pyaw)
- Khun (????), Shan men (of Kengtung ancestry; e.g., Khun Htun Oo) and Pa'O men
- Ko (???), Men of similar age (e.g., Ko Mya Aye)
- Ma (?), Young women or women of similar age
- Mahn (????), Kayin (Karen) men (e.g., Mahn Win Maung)
- Maung (abbr. Mg; ?????), To address a man younger than oneself, also commonly used as a prefix for the proper male name.
- Mi (??), Some young women, usually as a nickname (e.g., Mi Swe); Mon women
- Minh (????), Mon boys; equivalent to Maung, from Mon ???
- Nai (?????), Mon men; equivalent to U (e.g., Nai Shwe Kyin), from Mon ???
- Nang (????), Shan women of nobility, from Shan ?????
- Naw (????), Karen (especially in S'gaw Karen) women
- Nant (????), Karen (especially in West Pwo Karen) women
- Nan (????), Karen (especially in East Pwo Karen) women; Shan women
- Sai (??????), Shan men (e.g., Sai Htee Saing), from Shan ????
- Salai (???????), Chin men
- Sao (???), Shan royalty (e.g., Sao Shwe Thaik), from Shan ????
- Saw (???) Shan royalty (Burmanized form of Sao) (e.g., Saw Mon Hla); Karen men (especially in S'gaw Karen and East Pwo Karen) (e.g., Saw Bo Mya, Saw Hla Tun (the first chairman of Kayin State))
- Sa (?), Karen men (especially in West Pwo Karen)
- Sawbwa (????????), Burmese approximation of Shan saopha (???????), used as a suffix for Shan chiefs (e.g., Nyaungshwe Sawbwa Sao Shwe Thaik)
- Saya (???), Men of senior rank or age for civilian communities/ used for private, lance corporal, corporal in various armed organisations.
- Sayadaw (???????), Senior monks (e.g., Sayadaw U Pandita)
- Sayama (????), Women of senior rank or age
- Shin (???? or ?????), Monks and noble men and women (Archaic; e.g., Shin Arahan, Shin Ye Htut, Yawei Shin Htwe)
- Thamein (?????), Burmanized form of Mon ??? used by Mon royalty (e.g., Smim Htaw)
- Thakin (????), Members of Dobama Asiayone, "the Thakins" (Archaic; e.g., Thakin Kodaw Hmaing)
- Theippan (??????), Writers (Archaic; e.g., Theippan Maung Wa)
- U (??), Mature men or men in a senior position and monks (e.g., U Thant, U Nu)
According to The Chicago Manual of Style, Burmese names are indexed by the first element unless this element is an honorific. Honorifics are mentioned after the other elements of the name, separated by a comma, or are not stated at all.
Astrology-based naming system
Many Burmese Buddhists also use astrology (which is determined by the child's day of birth in the traditional eight-day calendar) to name their children. For instance, a Monday-born child may have a name beginning with the letter "k" (?). The following is a traditional chart that corresponds the day of birth with the first letter used in a child's name, although this naming scheme is not universally used today:
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