Names, Burmese


Names, Burmese
   Burmese names usually consist of two or three monosyllables which, taken together, have a meaning; for example, Khin Nyunt can be a man or woman's name, meaning "the utmost of friendliness." Occasionally a name may be a single syllable, such as that of Burma's former prime minister, Nu, "gentle." Westerners often thought his name was "U Nu," but the first syllable is a respectful title (see below). Unlike East Asians or Westerners, Burmese do not have family names, and attempts to introduce them have not been successful. Nor do they have patronymics, like the "son/daughter of" forms found in Russian, Arabic, and other languages. Traditionally, the day of the eight-day week on which a person is born determines the letter with which his or her name begins, for example, the Burmese equivalent of "k/g" on Monday, and "m" or "b/p" on Thursday. Parents take special care to give a child an auspicious name, and the name may be changed in later life on the advice of a practitioner of astrology. However, neither men nor women change their names upon marrying.
   Because of the lack of family names, there is often considerable confusion because so many people have the same given name, even taking into account the tonal differences of the Burmese (Myanmar) language. For example, there are three important Tin Oo's (or Tin U's) in modern Burmese history: a former director of Military Intelligence, a leader of the National League for Democracy, and a general who was second secretary (Secretary-2) of the State Peace and Development Council until his accidental death in 2001. People with the more common sort of names often append a clarifying prefix; for example, in daily conversation, people will distinguish between "Mandalay Maung Shwe" (Maung Shwe who comes from Mandalay) and "Tekatho [university] Maung Shwe" (Maung Shwe who attended/graduated from university). "Suu Kyi" is a common lady's name, but Aung San Suu Kyi could only be the daughter of Burma's independence leader. It is said that even Military Intelligence makes mistakes in identifying people because of the large number of commonly used names, although careful dossiers are kept on dissidents. Despite the end of British colonial rule, many Burmese take a Western given name to supplement their Burmese name, which is useful in dealing with foreigners. Christians often take a name from the Bible.
   Apart from the names themselves, honorific forms of address are used to indicate a person's age and status. U ("uncle") and Daw ("aunt") are used to address adult men and women; ko is used for a young male, ma being the female equivalent; and maung for a boy, while ma is used for girls. Saya, meaning "teacher" (female: sayama), is used not only for educators, but also for physicians, writers, artists, bosses, or any person in a responsible position whose approval one seeks. Members of the sangha, or Buddhist monkhood, have special names and titles that must be used with care.
   The minorities have their own terms of address. Among the Shans, Sai is the equivalent of U, Nang for Daw; among the Mons, Nai for U and Mi for Daw or Ma; and among the Karens, Saw for U and Naw for Daw or Ma. Most of Burma's ethnic minorities do not have family names; the Kachins are an exception.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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