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Burmese names lack the serial structure 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.
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 vaṇṇa)
- kaung (ကောင်း "best", from kaung)
- sanda (စန္ဒာ "moon", from canda)
- thanda (သန္တာ "coral", from santa)
- thiri (သီရိ "splendour", from siri)
- hayma (ဟေမာ, "forest", compare Himalayas)
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.
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:
|Ashina||အရှင် or အသျှင်||Lord||Monks, nobles, and rarely, for women|
|Binnya, Banya||ဗညား or ဗညာ||To indicate royalty and nobility, from Mon ဗညာ /pəɲɛ̀a/)|
|Bo, Bogyoke||ဗိုလ်/ဗိုလ်ချုပ်||Commander/General/Leader||Military officers (e.g., Bogyoke Aung San)|
|Daw||ဒေါ်||Aunt/Ms||Mature women or women in a senior position (e.g. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi)|
|Gyi||ကြီး||Great||As a suffix to show respect (e.g. Khin-gyi Pyaw)|
|Khun||ခွန်||Mr||Shan men (of Kengtung ancestry; e.g., Khun Htun Oo) and Pa'O men|
|Ko||ကို||Brother (older)||Men of similar age (e.g., Ko Mya Aye)|
|Ma||မ||Sister/Ms||Young women or women of similar age|
|Mahn||မန်း||Mr||Kayin (Karen) men (e.g., Mahn Win Maung)|
|Mai, Me||မယ်||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||Some young women, usually as a nickname (e.g., Mi Swe)|
|Min||မင်း||King||As a suffix (e.g., Mindon Min)|
|Minh||မင်း||Mon boys; equivalent to Maung, from Mon မာံ (/mèm/)|
|Nai||နိုင်||Mr||Mon men; equivalent to U (e.g., Nai Shwe Kyin), from Mon နဲာ (/nài/)|
|Nang||နန်း||Ms||Shan women of nobility, from Shan ၼၢင်း (/naaŋ/)|
|Naw||နော်||Ms||Karen (especially in S'gaw Karen) women|
|Nant||နမ့်||Ms||Karen (especially in West Pwo Karen) women|
|Nan||နန်း||Ms||Karen (especially in East Pwo Karen) women|
|Nga||င||As a prefix for men, now derogatory|
|Sai||စိုင်း||Mr||Shan men (e.g., Sai Htee Saing), from Shan ၸၢႆး (/tsaaj/|
|Sao||စဝ်||Lord||Shan royalty (e.g., Sao Shwe Thaik), from Shan ၸဝ်ႈ (/tsaw/)|
|Saw||စော||Lord||Shan royalty (Burmanized form of Sao) (e.g., Saw Mon Hla)|
|Saw||စော||Mr||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||စ||Mr||Karen men (especially in West Pwo Karen)|
|Sawbwa||စော်ဘွား||Lord||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||Males of senior rank or age|
|Sayadaw||ဆရာတော်||Royal Teacher||Senior monks (e.g., Sayadaw U Pandita)|
|Sayama||ဆရာမ||Teacher||Females of senior rank or age|
|Shin||ရှင် or သျှင်||Lord||Monks and noble men and women (Archaic; e.g., Shin Arahan, Shin Ye Htut, Yawei Shin Htwe)|
|Thamein||သမိန်||Lord||Burmanized form of Mon သၟီ (/hmoiŋ/); used by Mon royalty (e.g., Smim Htaw)|
|Tekkatho||တက္ကသိုလ်||University||Writers (Archaic; e.g., Tekkatho Phone Naing)|
|Thakin||သခင်||Master||Members of Dobama Asiayone, "the Thakins" (Archaic; e.g., Thakin Kodaw Hmaing)|
|Theippan||သိပ္ပံ||Science||Writers (Archaic; e.g., Theippan Maung Wa)|
|U||ဦး||Uncle/Mr||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" (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 (sa), 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. JSTOR 25207880.
- 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.
- Simms, Sao Sanda (2017-08-09). "Ahp 48 Great Lords of the Sky: Burma's Shan Aristocracy".
- "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).