Burmese names lack the serial quality of most modern names. The Bamars have no customary patronymic or matronymic 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. However, in modern Myanmar, many of these traditions are changing.
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 Bamars 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 males and up to five for females.
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 (မင်း; "leader") were re-appropriated as part of personal names.
For example, Burmese nationalist Aung San's parents were named Pha (ဖာ) and Suu (စု), both of which are single syllable names. His birth name was Htain Lin (ထိန်လင်း), but he changed his name to Aung San (အောင်ဆန်း) later in life. His child is named Aung San Suu Kyi (အောင်ဆန်းစုကြည်). 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 (ခင်ကြည်). 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.
- thura (သူရ "brave, gallant" from sūra)
- thiha (သီဟ "lion," from sīha)
- zeya (ဇေယျာ "victory," from jāya)
- wunna (ဝဏ္ဏ "gold," from vanna)
Burmese people who marry into the West or immigrate 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.
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.
Below are some common honorifics used in Burmese names:
|Ashin||အရှင် or အသျှင်||Lord||Used by monks, nobles, and rarely, for women|
|Binnya, Banya||ဗညား or ဗညာ||Used to indicate royalty and nobility, from Mon ဗညာ /pəɲɛ̀a/)|
|Bo, Bogyoke||ဗိုလ်/ဗိုလ်ချုပ်||Commander/General/Leader||Used for military officers (e.g., Bogyoke Aung San)|
|Daw||ဒေါ်||Aunt/Ms||Used for mature women or women in a senior position (e.g. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi)|
|Duwa||ဒူးဝါး||Chief||Used for Kachin chiefs|
|Gyi||ကြီး||Great||Used as a suffix to show respect (e.g. Khin-gyi Pyaw)|
|Khun||ခွန်||Mr||Used by Shan men (of Kengtung ancestry; e.g., Khun Htun Oo)|
|Ko||ကို||Brother (older)||Used for men of similar age (e.g., Ko Mya Aye)|
|Ma||မ||Sister/Ms||Used for young women or women of similar age|
|Mahn||မန်း||–||Used by Karen men (e.g., Mahn Win Maung)|
|Mai, Me||မယ်||Used by some young women in lieu of မ, but exceedingly rare|
|Maung (abbr. Mg)||မောင်||Brother (younger) for boys||Sometimes used as part of given name|
|Mi||မိ||Ms||Used by some young women, usually as a nickname (e.g., Mi Swe)|
|Mi||မိ||Ms||Used by Mon women|
|Min||မင်း||King||Used as a suffix (e.g., Mindon Min)|
|Minh||မင်း||Used by Mon boys; equivalent to Maung, from Mon မာံ (/mèm/)|
|Nai||နိုင်||Mr||Used by Mon men; equivalent to U (e.g., Nai Shwe Kyin), from Mon နဲာ (/nài/)|
|Nang||နန်း||Ms||Used by Shan women, from Shan ၼၢင်း (/naaŋ/)|
|Naw||နော်||Ms||Used by Karen women|
|Nga||င||Used as a prefix for men, now derogatory|
|Sai||စိုင်း||Mr||Used by Shan men (e.g., Sai Htee Saing), from Shan ၸၢႆး (/tsaaj/|
|Salai||ဆလိုင်း||Used by Kuki men|
|Sao||စဝ်||Lord||Used by Shan royalty (e.g., Sao Shwe Thaik), from Shan ၸဝ်ႈ (/tsaw/)|
|Saw||စော||Lord||Used by Shan royalty (Burmanized form of Sao) (e.g., Saw Mon Hla)|
|Saw||စော||Mr||Used by Karen men (e.g., Saw Bo Mya)|
|Sawbwa||စော်ဘွား||Chief||Burmese approximation of Shan saopha (ၸဝ်ႈၽႃႉ, /tsaw pʰaa/), used as a suffix for Shan chiefs (e.g., Nyaungshwe Sawbwa Sao Shwe Thaik)|
|Saya||ဆရာ||Teacher||Used for males of senior rank or age|
|Sayadaw||ဆရာတော်||Royal Teacher||Used for senior monks (e.g., Sayadaw U Pandita)|
|Sayama||ဆရာမ||Teacher||Used for females of senior rank or age|
|Shin||ရှင် or သျှင်||Lord||Used by monks and noble men and women (Archaic; e.g., Shin Arahan, Shin Ye Htut, Yawei Shin Htwe)|
|Tekkatho||တက္ကသိုလ်||University||Used by writers (Archaic; e.g., Tekkatho Phone Naing)|
|Thakin||သခင်||Master||Used by the members of Dobama Asiayone, "the Thakins" (Archaic; e.g., Thakin Kodaw Hmaing)|
|Theippan||သိပ္ပံ||Science||Used by writers (Archaic; e.g., Theippan Maung Wa)|
|U||ဦး||Uncle/Mr||Used for mature men or men in a senior position and monks (e.g., U Thant, U Ottama)|
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 8-day calendar) to name their children. For instance, a Monday-born child may have a name beginning with the letter "k" (က). 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:
|Monday (တနင်္လာ)||က (ka), ခ (hka), ဂ (ga), ဃ (ga), င (nga)|
|Tuesday (အင်္ဂါ)||စ (sa), ဆ (hsa), ဇ (za), ဈ (za), ည (nya)|
|Wednesday morning (ဗုဒ္ဓဟူး)||လ (la), ဝ (wa)|
|Wednesday afternoon (ရာဟု)||ယ (ya), ရ (ya, ra)|
|Thursday (ကြာသာပတေး)||ပ (pa), ဖ (hpa), ဗ (ba), ဘ (ba), မ (ma)|
|Friday (သောကြာ)||သ (tha), ဟ (ha)|
|Saturday (စနေ)||တ (ta), ထ (hta), ဒ (da), ဓ (da), န (na)|
|Sunday (တနင်္ဂနွေ)||အ (a)|
- Burmese Names: A Guide. Mi Mi Khaing. The Atlantic. February 1958
- Houghton, Bernard (July 1897). "The Arakanese Dialect of the Burman Language". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland): 454.
- Thant Myint-U (2001). The Making of Modern Burma. Cambridge University Press. p. 242. ISBN 9780521799140.
- Shorto, H.L. (1962). Dictionary of Modern Spoken Mon. Oxford University Press.
- Moeng, Sao Tern (1995). Shan-English Dictionary. ISBN 0-931745-92-6.
- "Indexes: A Chapter from The Chicago Manual of Style." the Chicago Manual of Style. Retrieved on December 23, 2014. p. 25 (PDF document p. 27/56).