NĀMKARAN, naming or name-choosing, is in Sikh tradition the ceremony whereby a child first receives his or her name. The ceremony involves both the selection of the name and its public application to the child within the social context of the Sikh community. This is the first of the three Sikh life cycle rituals, the other two being marriage and funeral observances. The time of the naming ceremony is left to the judgement of the parents, though Bhāī Kāhn Siṅgh, Gurushabad Ratnākar Mahāṅ Kosh, says it should be within forty days of birth which limitation however is not strictly adhered to in actual practice. The ceremony itself is simple. At the time chosen, the parents bring the child to the presence of the Gurū Granth Sāhib. This may be after the usual daily service in a gurdwārā. If chosen to be more elaborate, the ceremony may take place at the conclusion of a completed reading, akhaṇḍ paṭh accomplished within forty-eight hours of uninterrupted recitation of the Gurū Granth Sāhib in the gurdwārā or at home. The ministering granthī or any other revered Sikh will mix amrit, stirring it with a kirpān and reciting the first five stanzas from the Japu. Ardās is then said. The ceremony underscores the idea that the name received by the child has the sanction of the Gurū and the community, that it has essentially been bestowed upon the recipient by them. The names chosen are generally characterized by the aroma of Sikh teaching and history and not unoften are taken out of the Sikh Scripture. They may signify qualities such as devotion, humility and heroism. Among names indicative of the Sikh spiritual ideals and pious aspirations, a few of the common ones are: Harbhajan Siṅgh, Harnām Siṅgh. Harcharan Siṅgh, Gurcharan Siṅgh, Gurdiāl Siṅgh, Hardiāl Siṅgh, Joginder Siṅgh, Sant Siṅgh. Representing names of the Divine are Rām Siṅgh, Kishan (Kṛṣṇa) Siṅgh, Bishan (Viṣṇu) Siṅgh, Bhagvān Siṅgh, Gobind Siṅgh, Indar Siṅgh, Naraiṇ Siṅgh; those representing moral and spiritual qualities Santokh Siṅgh, Prem Siṅgh, Dharam Siṅgh, Giān Siṅgh, Satnām Siṅgh, Parkāsh Siṅgh, Gurdās Siṅgh, Gurmukh Siṅgh, Simrat Siṅgh, Satbīr Siṅgh, Satpāl Siṅgh. Some of the Sikh names expressive of heroism are: Khaṛak Siṅgh, Jodh Siṅgh, Ajīt Siṅgh, Raṇjīt Siṅgh, Jujhār Siṅgh, Faujā Siṅgh, Bahādur Siṅgh, Vīr Siṅgh. Some draw on history and legend and on the objects of nature and, thus, we have Dārā Siṅgh, Sikandar Siṅgh, Rustam Siṅgh, Totā Siṅgh, Bāj Siṅgh, Sher Siṅgh, Kikkar Siṅgh, Pahāṛā Siṅgh, Gaṅgā Siṅgh. Months contribute some names: Chet Siṅgh. Basākhā Siṅgh, Maghar Siṅgh, Sāvan Siṅgh, along with Basant Siṅgh as do cities and towns: Lahaurā Siṅgh, Pashaurā Siṅgh, Kashmīrā Siṅgh, Multānā Siṅgh, Ajmer Siṅgh and Kābul Siṅgh.

         Mention in the name of one's caste or surname is disapproved, though this prohibition is not strictly followed. A person bearing a distinctive name as individual may be referred to by his caste or domicile name or by some other attribute. Thus some leading Sikhs have been known as Āhlūvālīā, Rāmgaṛhīā, ḍhilloṅ, Grevāl, Siddhū, Sandhāṅvālīā (caste/ gotra names), as Nāgoke, Kairoṅ, Jalālusmāṅ, Majhail, Bādal, Ṭauhṛā, Rāṛevālā, Talvaṇḍī (domicile) or Kirpān Bahādur (appellation), Sher-i-Punjab (after a newspaper). Sometimes nicknames have become surnames, e.g. Ainakī, one who wears ainak (spectacles), ḍhiḍḍal with a paunch, Lammā extraordinary tall, and so on.

         In the choice of names a process of evolution has been at work, generally from simpler to the more elaborate ones. The current popularity of compound and sophisticated names is owed to the increased emphasis on Sikh identity; also perhaps to greater concern for euphony and grandeur.

         Most modern names are composed of two or more words combined to sound like one word, signifying generally heroism, self-sacrifice, devotion to the Gurū or the principles the Gurū inculcated. The patterns into which Sikh names usually fall would make an interesting language study as also a study of the ideals cherished. In choosing names among the Sikhs, both fancy and eclecticism play their part. Names from the Perso-Arabic Muslim background such as Shamsher Siṅgh, Shāhbeg Siṅgh, Bakhtāvar Siṅgh, Shāhbāz Siṅgh, Sardār Siṅgh, Zorāwar Siṅgh, Fateh Siṅgh, Iqbāl Siṅgh, Hukam Siṅgh, and Hākim Siṅgh. Among those suggestive of European background may be counted Aṅgrez Siṅgh, Major Siṅgh, Karnail Siṅgh and Jarnail Siṅgh.

         As compared with males, there is less variety in female names, which often adhere to objects of aesthetic experience or moral qualities. Examples: Resham Kaur, Gulāb Kaur, Suraiṇ Kaur, Satvant Kaur, Sumittar Kaur, Sundar Kaur, Sushīl Kaur, and Mahtāb Kaur. These have their counterparts among male names as well.


  1. Jogendra Singh, Sikh Ceremonies . Bombay, 1941
  2. Teja Singh, Sikhism: Its Ideals and Institutions . Bombay, 1937
  3. Cole, W. Owen, and Piara Siṅgh Sambhi, The Sikhs: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Delhi, 1978
  4. Sikh Rahit Maryādā . Amritsar, 1975
  5. Kāhn Siṅgh, Gurushabad Ratanākar Mahān Kosh [Reprint]. Patiala, 1981

Murray J. Leaf