Proper Names of Persons in Vedic Literature


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This report contains the main result obtained from a study of the proper names of persons in Vedic Literature undertaken by me at the school of Vedic Studies. I express my thankful appreciation to the University Grants Commission for granting financial support for the project. I am thankful to the Project Assistants (Ms. Alpana Chowdhury, 1.4.98 – 1.5.99; Ms. Mithu Roy Chowdhury, 23.7.99 – 18.12.00) appointed for the project for their assistance in collecting material. I take this opportunity to record my thanks to Prof. Nabanarayan Bandyopadhyay, Director, School of Vedic Studies, for his assistance and encouragement in implementing the said project, and to Professor Karunashindu Das, now Vice-Chancellor of this university, with whom I discussed some grammatical issues.


Names if Persons M. B. Emeneau observed: “The personal names of the peoples of South Asia are still incompletely explored.” in his articles “Towards an Onomastics of South Asia” (p. 1). Up to the present day no complete study of Sanskrit proper names has been made, though such a study will be useful and interesting, for this will shed light on the custom of naming in general and no the social, local, ethnic and cultural background of the names in particular. In view of the great variety of the naming systems prevailing in the world, a critical investigation into the subject offers an insight into the tendencies in giving the personal names, varying from country to country and from time to time.

The notion of name was known to the Indo-European languages and probably even at an earlier stage, as may be know from the cognate words such as naman (Vedic), naman (Avesta), onoma (Greek), nomen (Latin) etc. in Indo-European languages. There is “no doubt that the notion of name in the sense of ‘particular designation’ is familiar to speakers of all Indo-European languages and must have been known to their common ancestor” (Nicolaisen, “Name and Appellative,” p.384). A name means a word or a group of words used to refer to an individual. Without a personal among countless heads of persons in this world. The choice of name is a private and individual matter. It reflects the name-giver’s values and interest. Good and meaningful choice of name is a token of one’s culture and it focuses the image of one’s aesthetic sense. As observed by van Velze, “names can be of value from an aesthetical point of view, and add beauty to a given language and literature” (Names of Persons …, p. 18). Names gives us in some case information on one’s locality (e.g., Kausalya, a resident of Kosala) and parentage (e.g., Vaisvamitra, son of Visvamitra).

Some scholars are of the opinion that a personal name is only a label, its only function is “to point out somebody, it does not matter if the word has any meaning of its own or not.” On the other hand there are scholars to whom a name is matter of greater significance. For instance, Denny maintains : “Names often have a mysterious quality, whether they refer to sacred beings of a transcendent nature or to humans and other concrete entities. There is power in names, because they both participate in the reality named and give definition and identity to that reality. That is, name and named exist in a mutual relationship in which the power of the former is shared with the being of the latter. Being without name has a very marginal status in the world of phenomena” (“Name and Naming,” pp.300-301), cf. “wer keinen Namen tragt kann kaum als Mensch gelten” (Bauer, “Namenforschung …,” p.8) and “Das nomen proprium reprasentiert seinen Trager, beide werden identisch” (Debus, ‘Methoden und Probleme …,” p.344). A verse ascribed to one Brhaspati claims :

namakhilasya uyavaharahetuh subhavaham karmasu bhagyahetuh/ namnaiva kirtim labhate manusyas tasmat prasastam khalu namakarma//, “Name is the primary means of social intercourse, it brings about merits and it is the root of fortune. From name man attains fame. Therefore, naming ceremony is very praiseworthy” (cited and translated by Pandey, Hindu Samskaras, p.78).

Studies of names are relevant to various disciplines such as history, ethnology, linguistics, religion, and philosophy (see Bauer, “Namenforschung …,” pp.8-23). Importance of such studies has been pointed out by scholars from time to time. Though such studies are not very popular in India, the discipline is widespread abroad; on Name-studies in different countries, see Namenforschung. The International Committee of Onomastic Sciences (ICOS) was the main international organization to maintain contacts among onomasticians and of future onomastic sciences in a worldwide perspective from 1949 to 1993. From 1993, it was reconstituted as International Council of Onomastic Sciences.

Previous Studies and the present work Proper names of ancient India have received attention of scholars before. There are several studies dealing with onomastic problems. The principal works are mentioned below and some others in the bibliography. The study of the naming system was first taken up by A. F. Pott in his Die Personennamen, insbesondere die Familiennamen und ihre Entstehungsarlen (Leipzig, 1853). As early as 1858, J. Grimm invited attention of scholars to the importance of the study of proper names for linguistics and cultural history. Relevance of the ancient Indian names for the study of the Indo-European Onomastics was made obvious first by A. Fick, who collected a large number of names in Indo-European languages and treated their formation in his Die griechischen Personennamen, nach ihrer Bildung erklart, mit den Namensystemen verwandter Sprachen verglichen und systematisch geordnet (Gottingen, 1874). His work was specially on the Greek names, but it has a section on Sanskrit names. Fick’s explanations concerned more the morphological analysis, while the semantic analysis of the names was comparatively neglected. The patronymics formed the thrust area of T. Gubler’s work Die Patronymica im Alt- Indischen, Inaugural-Dissertation zur Erlangung der Doctorwurde der Universitat Basel (Gottingen, 1903). He has shown formation of patronymics, besides his observations on the usage of names. In 1910 A. Hilka first published a detailed study of ancient Indian names under the title Beitrage zur Kenntnis der indischen Namengebung: Die altindischen Personennamen (Breslau). He treated the Indian naming system in general, the post-Vedic rules concerning the naming system in India – past present, the structure of the Indian names and their semantic classification. In 1938 J. A. van Velze published a study of personal names in Sanskrit inscriptions and in older Sanskrit literature: Names of Persons in Early Sanskrit Literature (Utrecht), dealing mainly with “Classification of the names of persons as whole or according to their principal element.”

The above-mentioned works deal more or less with Sanskrit proper names but an exclusive study of Vedic proper names is still wanting, cf. “Die vedischen Namen, weil zumeist dunkel and unsicher, wurden selten berucksichtigt” (Hilka, Beitrage …, opposite p.I). The names of the Vedic age deserve a separate treatment for that would reveal the naming pattern of the Vedic age which differs to some extent from that of the later ages and is closer to the Indo-European source. For example, in the later ages the names of Brahmins, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras contained (usually at the end) the words sarman, varman, gupta, and dasa, respectively. This practice is not found in the Vedic period; I find only two names containing sarman, Bhadrasarman (Kausika) and Girisarman (Kantheviddhi), both in the Vamsa Brahmana, and two names ending in gupta, Brhaspatigupta (Sayasthi) and Palligupta (Lauhitya), the former in the VB and the later in the JUB, both late texts, but, even then, without specific reference to their caste. Astrological names, i.e. names containing a particular letter according to the asterism under which a child is born (see Hilka, Beitrage …, pp.42-44), were also later developments (see Pandey, Hindu Samskaras, p.81). The present work, therefore, aimed at a systematic study of the names of persons available in the Vedas. The works of my predecessors were of great help to me and I acknowledge my debt of gratitude to them with the Vedic expression : idam nama rsibhyah purvajebhyah purevebhyah pathikrdbhyah.


Preface 7
List of Contents 9
Scheme of transliteration 10
List of abbreviations 11
I Introduction 13
II The notion of name, name-giving 26
III Usage of names 36
IV Morphological analysis and classification 46
V Semantic analysis and classification 56
Bibliography 67
Index 76
Sample Pages