Myanmar(Burmese) Names or Our Custom

About seven years ago, while I was spending a few days in Philadelphia and enjoying great hospitality of Professor Leonard Swindler, the distinguished Professor of Catholic Thought & Interreligious Dialogue at Temple University, I attended one of discussions with his graduate students. Once his students learned of my Burmese origin, the remainder of the discussion turned to Burmese culture, tradition, and finally names.

“Do you mean to say,” asked one of the scholars, “that you have no last name according to your father?” On my replying in the negative all the scholars, except the venerable professor, looked at me in astonishment, and in a question which I shall not easily forget, they asked “No last name??? How do you trace the root of your ancestors?” The question stunned me at that time. I could give no perfect answer, for the traditional custom I was so used to, without thinking too much about my family roots after my grandmother passed away when I was still a little boy.

A few years later, after witnessing different cultural practices around the world, I realized that the Burmese custom of naming is fairly unique. It symbolizes the combination of the particular virtue for a person and astrological calculation of the day of the week that the person was born based on Burmese lunar calendar year.

I was born at home on Saturday, at 10 in the morning. A few days later, acquainted astrologer of my mother from the village, made Zar Tar and inscribed my name, Tun Ba Kaung, on it. At least that is how I know the time I was born, according to my Zar Tar record. When I am educated enough able to understand the information written in Zar Tar, it becomes my precious treasure as possession of traditional value that belongs to me from my infancy.

Zar Tar is a stack of palm leaves smeared with residual oil and folded into a handy packet. It is an old-fashioned birth certificate, declare the name of newly born baby, usually prepare by monks and astrologers, by going through complex calculation of the location of stars, sun, and the date and time of the birth of new baby.
Zar Tar

The choices of name are of tremendously importance to the people of Myanmar. The name may represent the virtue of longevity, wealthiness, healthiness, the great love of dedication to admire one, the dream and hope of parents upon their child, the sign of magnificent and significant events, and so on. Some may even have great length of story behind their names.

The same practice, to certain extent, of giving name to the people applies the way of giving name to the places, nothing associate with Zar Tar preparation, but rather built monument, tombstone, or a symbol instead, historical information passed down generation to generation. We are only able to study the origin of a few surviving historical renowned-names, while the rest of the names of places remain mystery, and furthermore some are even twisted from the original meaning over the period of time.

Naturally, parents want to do everything the best for their child, begin with great care of choosing an appropriate name, putting their grand hope in the name of baby and in the faith upon their child becoming a decent person in the future. It is the faith that the meaning and syllable of given name have an effect upon the wheel of fortune to the owner of the name.

Sometimes people of surrounding could give some nick names to a person aside from given name. Generally, nick names are cadenced, rhythmic, sometime offensive to a person, a pet name might even be given by friends, but the phenomenon of calling a friend or to someone else by nick name is not a strange custom in Myanmar society.

Myanmar names could be chosen from various types of form; some choose only one single word name, and since four words names are no longer uncommon, but still two words or three words names are mostly preferable by typical Myanmar families. In general, one single word could be one syllable, but there are still a lot of outstanding single words composed into more than one syllable with beautiful meanings.
For example,
Single words with one syllable are Thant, Win,Tun,...etc.
Single words with two syllables are Nanda, Oakar, Ohmar,…etc.

Basically the first syllable represents the day of the week that the person was born. Therefore, one could easily find out which day of the week that the person was born just by knowing the name in majority.
For example,
The first syllable, Tun, of the name “Tun Ba Kaung” represents Saturday born.

There are 33 alphabets in Myanmar language. From astrological stand point of view, certain set of alphabets can be categorized into seven days of the week.

Myanmar Alphabets

The followings are the categorization of Myanmar alphabets with associated days of the week.
က, ခ, ဂ, င - Monday
စ, ဆ, ည - Tuesday
ယ, ရ, လ, ဝ - Wednesday
ပ, ဖ, ဘ, မ - Thursday
သ, ဟ - Friday
တ, ထ, ဒ, န - Saturday
အ, ဥ - Sunday

And each day of the week can be represented with Myanmar zodiac sign.
Monday born- Tiger

Tuesday born- Lion, Myanmar Mythical Creature

Wednesday born in the morning and afteronn - Elephant without a tusk
Wednesday born in the evening- Elephant with a tusk

Thursday born - Mouse

Friday born - Guinea Pig

Saturday born - Dragon, Myanmar Mythical Creature

Sunday born - Garuda Bird, Myanmar Mythical Creature, Ga Lone

A few words from Myanmar names
 Myanmar Names Meanings
 aye cool
 aung succeed
 hlaing plenty
 hla beautiful
 kyi clear
 khin friendly
 maung brother
 tun succeed
 win winning
 thant clean

Expression of respect is also a matter of utmost importance to address the name of Myanmar people. One can be addressed with an appropriate honorific salutation before the given name depends on the level of age, degree of relationship, and gender. It will be considered impolite way of calling someone’s name in a direct manner of speaking.

To address younger ones and peers before their names,
“Ko” is used as a masculine form.
“Ma” is used as a feminine and formal form.

“Maung” is used as a masculine formal form.

To address elder ones before their names,
“U” or “Oo” is used as a masculine and formal form.
“Daw” is used as a feminine and formal form.

It is likely one can be addressed formally with “U” or “Daw” before the given name after the age of 30.

The followings are the family term,
Brother – A Ko
Sister – Nyi Ma, Hna Ma (younger sister)
A Ma (older sister)
Uncle – Oo Lay (younger brother of Mother or Father)
Oo Gyi (older brother of Mother or Father)
Aunty – Daw Lay (younger sister of Mother or Father)
Daw Gyi (older sister of Mother or Father)
Grandfather – A Pho
Grandmother – A Phwar

But family terms are not limited to be used only for the family members. In Myanmar custom, calling to a stranger with an appropriate term of “brother”, “sister”, “uncle”,”aunty”,”grandfather”,”grandmother” is a common practice.

Myanmar women are, unlike other cultures in Western, traditionally granted a privilege, taking a pride of freedom in which they don’t have to change their names when they get married. It never happens into the consciousness of Myanmar people, as a matter of fact, that it is a necessary custom to follow.

Maung Ba Kaung


စိုးထက္ - Soe Htet ! said...

:) Very good and knowledgeable ! Many thanks for you post !
Cheers !

Anonymous said...

Very interesting! I've been reading about Burmese names as my school has a lot of students from Burma, and I'm trying to figure out what is the correct way to say their names? Most of them are Karen, but there are some that are Mon and Chin and Burmese. Should we say all 2 or 3 syllables, or just the first? Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

Ba Kaung said...

It is a personal preference to address Burmese names with either two or three syllables. It also shows certain respect if you use appropriate honorific salutation before their names. Isn't it too much of formal custom calling their names with honorific salutation in daily life? No. Absolutely Not. You are just expressing your courteous manner of speaking, and it is also the best way to address Burmese names with honorific salutation. We, Burmese people, tend to call love ones in one syllable without applying any form of salutation only when we are in intimate relationship.

FYI, my wife always calls me with one syllable word, and I think it is the most sweetest of all.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much! Often, our teachers address a child by the first syllable in their name. For example, we call Da Thwee, 'Da'. The children don't seem to mind, but I'd like to get it right. May I ask, what would you want teachers in America to know about saying and pronouncing a student's name? Also, I’ve seen some of the meanings of their names, but I’d like to know more. Is there anywhere online I could look to find more meanings of names? We have several children with the name “Htoo”, and I can’t find what it means. Thank you again for your help with these matters!

Ba Kaung said...

It is very considerate approach of you that finding an appropriate way of addressing Burmese names. In Burmese culture, teachers are regarded as one of those respectful figures after parents. Therefore, parents and teachers are ethnically granted to call the name of children and students in full length without salutation. Some parents might call the name of their child only with first meaningful syllable or last meaningful syllable. Despite the fact that children are being called by their full names without salutation, they always regard themselves with appropriate salutation to their name when they write down the ownership of their books or fill the school application forms. When I was little, it was absolutely fine with people calling my name, Tun Ba Kaung, in full length without salutation. But I always write down my name with salutation, Maung Tun Ba Kaung, on every cover of the books.

With regard to rectify your example of 'Da Thwee', I doubt that it is actually a name and I find it even more awkward calling the first syllable 'Da' as it doesn't make any meaning.
I understand that it is very difficult for those who do not speak Burmese can have a hard time to pronounce Burmese names. I am sure all the other Burmese people aware that too. So with sincere understanding and kind consideration for those who can not pronounce Burmese names properly, most Burmese people might let to be addressed with an easy meaningful syllable from their Burmese name.

If I may suggest, it is better to ask their parents how they would like their child to be addressed. Therefore, you can say their names in the right way or their way. If you are dealing with the circumstance that you can not communicate with their parents in English, you can always check with the Myanmar Alphabets table from my post and avoid not calling the names with the syllable from those alphabets. Basically alphabet does not represent any particular meaning.

I am sorry that I didn't provide a lot of sample Myanmar names with its meaning in my post, but I found this web site,, after I goggled. Hope, it could help you with what you are looking for. The meaning of "Htoo" is special.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for explaining Burmese names to me. I will share this information with the teachers at my school. I will take your advice and ask the parents what they want their child to be called too. Thank you also for sharing the web site that tells about names. It is very helpful! Blessings to you and you family.

Anonymous said...

one of the question asked about "htoo",in my knowledge I thought that name must be karan name from burma ,because alot of karan people they gave their children name like htoo,say .htoo mean=gold ,say mean=silver.

Anonymous said...

Hello Ko Ba Kaung

This post is very interesting. In South East Asia, I get to know various naming systems. Chinese names start with a family name followed by their given name; Malay names start with given name followed by the father's given name, bin or binte is between the given name and father's name; Indian names start with father's name followed by given name.

I am often asked what my sir name or family name is, what my name means, how I should be addressed in my language, etc. I love explaining the importance of a name in a person's life and how Myanmar names are given.

Once, I asked a few people and found out that most of the people do not remember the day they were born in as there was no link to their name or that does not seem to be important to them. It is interesting to learn about cultures.

Very good to read this post, hope to read more about our culture and traditions.

Ma Seint

Unknown said...

this is awsome

Anonymous said...

yeah! Htoo and say is the Karen people name.
but htun in burmese name. they spell different and they have different too. but my name is boe boe htoo it's actually burmese name cuz boe boe is burman name but htoo is burmese cuz my grandfather know how to give a name as this style so i was born in Thursday. so B. ba. bu bo. that is. but htoo is karen so who am I? hihi

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