Fifty Viss

a collection of thoughts and writings on Burma

Part 2: Burmese personal names – Miscellany

Burmese-personal-names-header

This is the 2nd in a 4 part installment on Burmese personal names — [1] Introduction | [2] Miscellany | [3] Male Names | [4] Female Names.

Burmese personal names: Miscellany

I recently got a hold of a small but useful trove of data, a 2014 exam roster of nearly 600 Burmese university students (in their early 20s). Using Excel, I began parsing the data, segmenting the names by word (not syllable) and categorizing by gender, to discern patterns in naming preferences. Given that there’s not much out there regarding Burmese names (statistically-speaking), I thought I’d take a stab at this and present some simple findings.

I’ve been able to shed some light on the top name choices and discern some naming patterns. However, I have to admit, given that almost every single name on that roster was one-of -a-kind, it’s difficult to really assess the complete picture and see conclusive patterns.

In light of the ongoing nationwide census, the first in Burma since 1983, it’s gotten me thinking. How useful would it be for the government to release the raw data to the public to manipulate? Of course, the accuracy of this census is debatable, as are many of the questions being asked..

Details on the data

Sample: 584 given names, 344 female, 240 male.

Source: extracted from a Rangoon-based university roster (April 2014)

Segmentation: not by syllable but by word.

Determination of gender: Already provided in the roster as an honorific: Maung (male) or Ma (female)

Other notes: I did not control for name’s origins or etymology (whether Shan, Chinese, English, etc.). The overwhelming majority of names were Burmese origin names.

For etymology and meanings, I confirmed with Southeast Asian Languages Library’s English-Burmese dictionary [link], Buddhistdoor International’s Buddhist dictionary [link] the Pali dictionary [link], and a copy of my dad’s paperback Tet Toe dictionary. For words whose meaning/origin I’m unfamiliar with, I’ve left a question mark.

Overarching patterns

Diversity of words. All in all, there was a dizzying number of words encountered through this exercise. And surprisingly, for both female and males, very few names were shared. There were a few instances in which 2 or at most, 3, students had the same exact name. This, even though these students did not possess surnames. It almost goes to show the ingenuity of Burmese families in designing unique names for their children, which may be a motivating factor in each succeeding generation’s ever more complex names.

What would be interesting is to have the students’ date of birth and see whether there’s a relationship between the student’s date of birth and the actual given name, whether that the traditional Burmese naming system informed the naming process for the students, and if so, how common this was. Unfortunately I didn’t have that kind of data.

Number of Unique Words:

Females had a presumably larger pool of words to choose from than males.. For males, I encountered 129 unique words (variants of the same word were counted separately) used as part of a name. For females, this number jumped to 202 words. Across the board, there was greater variation in the second word of a given name, for both males and females, implying that there’s greater latitude in the second word of a given name.

I also observed a naming pattern: the third word in a given name had markedly less variation than the first two. In fact, there was considerable overlap for both males and females in the 3rd word of their name–4 of the top 10 words were shared by both genders: Kyaw, Naing, Htun, and Aung.

Top 25 Words Used in Burmese Names:

Of the most common words used in the set of Burmese names, there was little overlap between frequently used female and male names. Only 9 of top 25 words were used for both males and females: Zin, Win, U, Myat, Htun, Phyo, Kyaw, Htet, and Aung. Makes sense, considering they are relatively unisex words.

Number of Syllables in a Burmese Name:

Across the board, the majority of males and females had 3 syllable names. However, a significant number of females possessed 4 syllable names.

The average number of syllables for both males and females was 3. Moreover, in line with the Burmese language’s monosyllabic tendencies, the average syllable length of both boys’ and girls’ name was 1.

Caveats

I don’t deny that there’s inherent sampling bias. For one, the data does not account for regional variations in naming trends, as the majority of these students would have originated from somewhere in Lower Burma (most likely the Rangoon region). Also this does not account for variation in socioeconomic class (predominantly urbanites with relatively well-off families). But I think it does provide a fairly sweeping overview of Burmese naming trends for the late 1980s-early 1990s generation. Moreover, I realize that the sample size may be insufficient.

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12 comments on “Part 2: Burmese personal names – Miscellany

  1. Wagaung
    31 May 2014

    Very interesting. I would imagine the popular custom of alliteration in girl’s names is still current such as Cho Cho or Than Than. Much less common with boys except Maung Maung and Ko Ko.

    In my generation of postwar baby boomers Khin Maung so and so or Maung Maung so and so is a very common boy’s name which practice makes it a three syllable name unlike the vast majority of boy’s names in that era.

    Like Dolores I suppose Khin no longer makes the top 9 but used to be very common in those days among both genders. On the other hand Htet must be the newcomer of the 9 since I had never heard of anyone with that name until my dad named my second son born in 1973. A few years later a film director of the exact same two syllable name appeared on the scene.

    Did you come across a good number of Pali names I wonder? Not so common in my generation they tend to be disyllabic, spelled separately in English sometimes and always in Burmese. Like Thida, Malar, Thawda, Sanda, Thanda, Thuza, (Eindra nowadays as in the film star Htun Eindra Bo) with girls and Zeya, Nanda, Thiha, Thura, Teza (Tay Za you will be more familiar with) for boys. Thawda is unisex and so is Nanda but its second syllable is spelled and pronounced differently for different genders (short creaky for male and long soft for female).
    Even some actual Burmese names like Nilar, Wut Hmon, Kyay Mon (as in the paper Kyemon or Mirror) are not really amenable to splitting.

    As you know truncation or splitting of Burmese names doesn’t work unlike Western names. Min Ko Naing cannot be Min Naing or just Naing in print or broadcast media since no Burmese would recognise the name. The same with his real name Paw Oo Htun. At least Suu Kyi is current and recognisable though it sounds impolite to us, but if you take only her first and last names as in a Western name, she’d have the same name as the liaison minister for dialogue with her Aung Kyi!

    • Aung Kyaw
      1 June 2014

      Interesting you bring up Khin (ခင်), because it was relatively uncommon (at least for males), even though it seems like every other person used to have that as a word in their names. Another one that was conspicuously missing was Hla (လှ), for both males and females. I did come across a good variety of Pali names for both males and females, which I’ve identified in Parts 3 and 4.

      • Wagaung
        2 June 2014

        Khin derived from thakhin (lord/lady), like Myat (noble) and Tin (hoist/super) probably took off in colonial times partly from nostalgia and partly by lending commoners the mantle of our fallen monarchy and aristocracy as in the famous triangle the last king Thibaw Min, Daing Khin Khin and Yanaung Maung Maung Toke.

        Interestingly Myat remains popular but the others like Hla (pretty/handsome) are presumably regarded as too dated. Likewise Pe (father) and Ba (father/uncle), Po (grandfather or young master), Mi and Mè (mother), Pwa (grandmother), Ma (sister) common in the first half of the last century no longer seem to occur. Even Ko (older brother), Maung and Nyi (younger brother) may be dying out, no longer cool and trendy.

  2. Wagaung
    31 May 2014

    Nay Chi (sun ray) and Zar Chi (lacy) are also popular unsplittable girl’s names among today’s generation as are older flower names like Thazin, Sabè, Hninsi, Thawka, Khwar Nyo and Myat Lay aside Anglo names such as Cherry, Lily and Baby (Sonny used to be popular for boys too) all spelled in separate words.

    • Aung Kyaw
      1 June 2014

      Since you brought up Khwar Nyo, I don’t think I saw a single instance of Nyo (ညို) in the names I encountered. Several females had just the word Zar (ဇာ) as part of their names–could it possibly be that these were just truncated from Zar Chi (ဇာချည်)?

      • Wagaung
        2 June 2014

        Nyo (brown) used to be a very common name, most famously Min Gyi Nyo, the founder of the 16th century Taungoo Dynasty. Nyo Mya (the editor of Ohway – Peacock’s Call, the Rangoon University Students Union magazine, and a close friend of Aung San), a 20th century writer and journalist was very well known.

        You might mean Zar as in the singer/model Tin Zar Maw who is now settled in the UK.

        Thiri (grace) and Haymar (winter, as in the singer Haymar Ne Win, daughter of the famous actor Collegean Ne Win and on her mother’s side granddaughter of Bo Zeya, another famous member of the Thirty Comrades) are popular Pali names for girls nowadays.

        Pali names of course are as a rule given to young nuns and novices becoming trendy towards the end of the last century, but Shans have shown a tendency to retain the novice/monk names after leaving the order.

  3. Pingback: Burmese Personal Names at Fifty Viss | Burmese Names

  4. Than Aung
    9 June 2014

    It’s great to see Fifty Viss active again.

    I’ve started analyzing Burmese names from the Myanmar Telephone Directory — giving me over 230,000 names. Those data presumably skew toward middle-aged adults and older, so it’s interesting to see what is different from what you found.

    Not too surprisingly, the phonebook names are shorter (often 2 syllables, sometimes 3 or 1). The phonebook lists lots of Khin’s and Maung Maung’s, but not too many Htet’s, so I think Wagaung’s observations in the comment above is probably accurate.

    If anyone is interested, I’m trying to post the results over at http://burmesenames.wordpress.com.

  5. Pingback: How Many Names Does a Burmese Person Have? | Burmese Names

  6. Pingback: Part 1: Burmese personal names – Introduction | Fifty Viss

  7. Pingback: Part 3: Burmese personal names – Male names | Fifty Viss

  8. Pingback: Part 4: Burmese personal names – Female names | Fifty Viss

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This entry was posted on 31 May 2014 by in Burma, Culture and tagged , , , .

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