Indian Culture


Primary Author
Chara Scroope,

Naming Conventions

  • Naming conventions vary based upon an individual’s religion and region of origin within India.
  • The use of surnames is a relatively new convention, introduced during British . Typically, parts of northern India follow English-speaking Western naming conventions by having a given name followed by a surname. This is not necessarily the case in southern India, where people may adopt a surname out of necessity when migrating or travelling abroad.
  • It is common for an individual's surname to reflect their community, family, caste or village of origin.
  • A name with the suffix ‘-walla’ loosely means ‘the trade one’s ancestors practised’. For example, ‘Chaiwalla’ roughly means ‘someone who makes chai (spiced tea)’.
  • There are various honorific titles based on formal or informal social and religious relationships. These titles are usually in the form of prefixes, suffixes or replacements. Some examples include ‘Guru’ (‘teacher’ or ‘expert’), ‘Baba’ (a mark of respect towards Hindu and Sikh ascetics but can also mean ‘father’), ‘Raj’ (‘king’ or ‘royalty’), ‘Sri’ (can mean ‘Mr’ or ‘Ms’ followed by first name, but also used as a title of veneration for deities) and ‘Sahab’ (same meaning as ‘Sri’ but comes after one’s last name). 
  • It is common to add the gender-neutral honorific suffix ‘-ji’ onto a first name to show respect towards a person, a group or inanimate objects (for example, ‘Madhavji’).
  • Those with a Hindu background usually have a given name, middle name and a family name (e.g. Sanjay Lal VASANI). Sometimes, a Hindu family name may indicate caste, and a person may drop this name as a way to reject the (e.g. Sanjay Lal).
  • A married woman may omit her father’s initial and adopt her husband’s first name as a surname (e.g. Nita SANJAY). However, it is also common for women to adopt their husband’s family name (e.g. Nita VASANI).
  • The initial of the father’s name is sometimes placed before their first name (e.g. N. Kumar).


  • Most given names in India are intentionally chosen with a specific meaning, and many are acutely aware of the meaning of their name. It is common for people (particularly Hindus) to be given names on the basis of horoscopes, usually provided by an astrologer. The astrologer determines the sound a name should begin with and the family will choose a name based on that sound.
  • It is common for people to have nicknames among close friends and family. Nicknames may be designated from a young age and follow someone through adulthood.
  • Some people may have a religious name. For example, people who formally become part of the Sikh community may adopt a ‘Khalsa’ name, usually ‘Singh’ (‘Lion’) for men and ‘Kaur’ (‘Princess’) for women.

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