A guide to Indian baby names

Not too long ago, I was researching baby names and paying close attention to what people were naming their babies. It didn’t take me long to realize that we Indians have a few unwritten rules for naming our babies.  Here are the top 10 rules based on my research :

1. The name should start with an “A”.  The more As, the better. Why bother turning the pages of that baby name book all the way to “S” or even “G”.  There must be thousands of names to wade through.  Who has the time or energy to decide?  Just stop with “A”.   Pick any name, as long as it starts with “A”.  In fact, don’t even bother going to “Ab”.  You can stop at “Aa”.  The more “A”s the better.

So Aakash or Aarti or Aashna are better than a mere Ajay or Aditya.  If you can pack in even more As into the name, even better.   Like Aarav –  just one long A garnished with a few consonants.

2. Let the Gods (and Goddesses) come to your rescue. You may have never been inside a temple for years, but now is the time to show your Hindu faith by naming your baby after the 1000 names of Vishnu/Lakshmi/ Durga/ Shiva or any other deity.

3. Ancient texts are baby name books too. What better use for all those ancient texts than as baby name books? Here is a great way to choose a secular name that shows off your knowledge of India’s culture.  Select names that are either Vedic in  origin (Advait, Vedant), or those that  belong to lesser known characters from mythological texts (Ahalya, Uttara) – lesser-known is key, for everyone knows who Kausalya and Dhruva were.  Then there are characters from ancient classic literature (Manimekalai, Kannagi).  Whatever you do, just make sure to steer clear of the villains.  Even if you did think Duryodhan was a great guy who was just misunderstood, please do not name your son Duryodhan.

4.  Choose a winning combination of the parents. What better way to name the baby but by combining the parents’ names? If the father’s name is Mahesh and the mother’s name is Jaya, then the baby should be called Maya, or Jayesh.  Of course, if the father’s name is Harish and the mother is Diksha, one hopes they wouldn’t name their baby Hardik.  But you see, they will.

5. Follow the latest trend. If everyone is naming their baby Aryan, then so should you.   What are last names for except to differentiate?  And when his class ends up with 5 Aryan Sharmas, well, you can still rename him to the current fashion then.  This way, his name will always be the “latest”.


6. Is it Americanized enough? Do you think he/she will work in a call center, or an MNC?  Then you better choose an Americanizable name.  “Samanth” will become “Sam” later, while Siddhanth and Siddharth have been “Sid” for years now.  Meghna could become “Meg” and so on.  But don’t worry, your kid will find a way to Americanize any name you give him/ her – after all, even a Chakravarthy can become Chuck and a Kannan can become Conan.

7.  Numerology is key. In thirty years’ time, your kid is going to consult a numerologist and add a bunch of  As, Es and Hs to his/ her name.  But that would be thirty years of being numerologically disadvantaged, so it’s best if you consult a numerologist right away.  Your kid might have to go through life with a name like Narmmadaa or Shobhaa, but it’s a small price for a bright future, right?

8. Go Global. We are Global Indians now. Our names should be equally global. There are the time-honored names like Maya,  Anita or Tara that work everywhere. But these are so common now that you should be considering names like Ansa (Finnish) or  Freya (Nordic).  In fact, names like Freya and Diana also satisfy rule #2 and show how much we love Gods and Goddesses, irrespective of which culture they belong to.

9. Use Mother Nature. This is not a new trend, naming babies after cute animals (deer, swan, peacocks), mountains, snow, the sun and the moon has been the norm for ages.   To be different, therefore, you should choose a global variation.  So instead of naming your daughter Chandra or Poonam after the moon, you should name her Celina or Cynthia.   Instead of naming her Ganga or Kaveri, you should call her Jhanvi, or choose a lesser-known river like Kshipra, or  go global and name her Volga or Lena.

10. Go Ethnic. Why do most names have to be Sanskrit based?  Why not base them on other Indian languages? You can call your daughter Alli (Tamil for Waterlily), for instance, which would also satisfy rules #6, #8 and #9. This last one is something of a very niche trend, unfortunately.  Sadly, we Indians would nearly always prefer to use a French or a German name rather than a Tamil word for a baby name, and this is true for many Tamil speakers too. (Replace Tamil with any other Indian language and it would still be true).

None of these examples are fictional, a quick search on the net (Google/Linkedin/Facebook et al)  is all you need to convince yourself that there are real Indians with these names.

Which brings us to the question you are, no doubt, asking yourself – what did I name our baby?  We had a few simple criteria – the name should be short, just 2-3 syllables, be easy and intuitive to pronounce and spell.  After years of enduring people mispronounce my name every third time and butcher R’s every single time, we wanted something that was easy on even untrained tongues.

But we did end up following one of these rules.  I am just not saying which.


26 thoughts on “A guide to Indian baby names

  1. Good read. And so true! I’ve come across some bizarre ones under rule no. 4. A couple we knew, Anil and Leena had 2 kids. A boy and a girl. The was called Benil (!!!) and the girl Lena :). A few other rules – perhaps not followed as diligently. Girls names should not have hard syllables like ‘bh’ or ‘dh’. They should have soft ones like ‘sh’ ‘ya’. While choosing names be careful what they mean – your child could pick up the qualities of the name. Like Grishma could become one hot lady!! :))

    • The good news is that “Benil” still follows rule #6 so he can call himself “Ben” and most people will never know. The school years will be tough though 😦

  2. Aanya, I hear, is one of the favourites. Maybe not the latest because both the Aanyas I know are two years old. Or is it Anya? That’s the AAA with 1.5 consonants! Urvija – was a name suggested (and accepted) for a couple who wanted to name their daughter after Sita – the suggestion came from a person who didn’t approve of Rama and hence suggested a pre-Rama name for Sita.

    • How can Aanya not be a popular name, with its 3 As ? 🙂 In the language of Credit agencies (S&P), it is AAA rated, Anya would be only AA rated but still investment grade. Urvija sounds very interesting, I’d never heard of it before, but if “Urvi” means “Earth”, then “daughter of the Earth” is a perfect description of Sita.

  3. Possibly in line with the Russian theme : names like Nikita and Natasha, Did you know that ‘Rada’ was immensely popular in Russia soon after the release of Awara there?
    Also, there seems to be an epidemic of Ria, Sia, Pia, Mia, Dia etc. I think the last time I counted, there were at least a couple of Ria-s and Sia-s that I know of.

    • I have a niece named Dia, (or maybe she is Diya). The epidemic makes sense though – those names are easy to pronounce and spell, and short (and sweet?) Are these US-born babies? You can get away with a multi-syllabic name in India, it’s more easily mispronounced here in the US.

  4. Liked the cartoon. But the best bet for a good name which is also not too common is search in one of the sahasranamas (rule #2). Or name the baby after your favorite author. Then there will be another Namesake

    • Interesting, I would say that the Sahasranamas are mostly picked over, especially Vishnu Sahasranamam. Just about every name in it seems to be shared by classfuls of little boys.

  5. Enjoyed !!! My friend named his baby Maahi for following reasons-

    1) Dhob(n)i fanatic!!

    2) This one is interesting….The name had to have M as 1st letter because .. M is 13 th character generally when u sort people( in schools/ colleges) people with ‘M’ end up in middle …and in case of the vivas (oral exams) u get to know the questions and you get to answer the viva before u r bored …!!

    3) and Maahi is M followed by two A’s (to get first in the M list )!

    • That’s one farsighted friend! I wonder if this has something to do with his own experience – did he miss out on viva questions because his name started with “A”?

      • No he didnt miss out acc to him he was bored to death in waiting for the viva ..his name is “Yashodas Zaware” … (Y and Z !!!)
        LOL .tht surname ZAWARE..(so many jokes.. unfit to share here :P)

  6. absolutely hilarious! and a brilliant analysis as well! just wondering how much effort would have gone into this post.

  7. I am fed up of babies with names starting with A. I mean really people, there are other letters.

    Great guide. I guess it will come handy in distant future for me 😀

  8. Lovely post! I had prepared an excel sheet in the days preceding the birth of my dotzy which was the only time when I had lots of time. What we chose finally was not on the list and was hastily plucked from memory minutes before the auspicious time 🙂

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