Sikhism is a religion founded by Lord guru Nanak in Punjab, India in the late fifteenth Century. The followers of Guru Nanak are called as Sikhs. The Sikhs maintain their identity through their names among other things. Sikh names are a combination of tradition, caste affiliation, piety, meaning and superior qualities of God. There are also ways to distinguish Sikh girl names from Sikh boy names.
Sikh names consist of three parts- a first name, a middle name and a surname. There is also a title attached to most names according to the person's status in the family. Titles are as follows: Mister is Sirdar, Mrs. is Sirdani, Miss is Bibi, sister is Biji or Didi, Mother is Mata and brother is veerji or bhaji.
The First name in Sikh names is selected carefully. It is left to the choice of the parents. The common practice is to consult the Hukamnama text of the Holy Book, Harmandir Saheb. Alternatively at home, one can open the Guru Granth Sahib (holy text) to a random page and the first letter of the first word on the top of the left page is the letter meant for the child's first name.
The first name also has some common prefixes or suffixes. like -pal, -want, -jeet, -inder,-deep etc. One important feature of first names is that they are gender neutral - for example, Harpreet is common in Sikh girl names and also in Sikh boy names. It is the Surname then that establishes gender. Most Sikh names are derived from the Guru Granth Sahib. and describe the divine qualities of God. 'Beant' meaning endless,' Amritha' meaning Deathless, and 'Eckjeet' meaning sole victorious.
The middle name consists of mainly two names, Kaur and Singh. Initially Sikh Girl names are given the surname Kaur and Sikh boy names , the surname Singh. Guru Gobind Singh the 10th guru started this practice in 1699. This was to mainly end the practice of caste identification and social stratification prevalent in Hindu society. Sikh names were freed from caste identification with all men having surname Singh and all women, Kaur.
Kaur and Singh have now become middle names with some Sikhs preferring to keep caste names as Surnames. These Sikh surnames often reflect the profession or caste. There are two main groups: Jats and Khatris. Jats are traditionally landowners, farmers or warriors and Khatris are merchants and rarely warriors. Surnames are numerous, each affiliated to one of these castes, for example Bhatti, Brar, Chawla etc.
Sikh names are similar to Hindi names as Punjabi is similar to Hindi and both belong to the Hindi heartland. Sikhs have retained their cultural identity through variations like Singh and Kaur. Caste names are similar to those of Punjabi Hindus. Sikh men are often identified by their turbans, beards and manner of dress. Women are similar to Punjabi women in appearance.
Sikh names are versatile with allowance made for tradition, gender, caste and personal choice. Chanan- light of God's feet and Chiranjiv-immortal, are beautiful first names. The middle name Kaur or Singh indicates gender. Surname throws light on caste and community affiliations.