THE PENGUIN BOOK OF HINDU NAMES FOR GIRLS
Maneka Gandhi was born on 26 August 1956 and was educated at Lawrence School,
Sanawar. She was a magazine editor and columnist before she embarked on a career in politics. She
is currently a Member of Parliament. She has been Minister of State for Environment and Forests, a
post she held till 1991, and was later appointed Minister of State for Social Justice and
Empowerment in 1998.
Maneka Gandhi has authored Sanjay Gandhi, Brahma's Hair (a book on the mythology
of Indian plants) and Rainbow and Other Stories, and co-authored The Complete Book
of Muslim and Parsi Names with Ozair Husain. Her special interests include Indian mythology,
animal welfare (she is the Managing Trustee of the Ruth Cowell Foundation, which runs the Sanjay
Gandhi Animal Welfare Centre, India's largest animal hospital and shelter) and issues related to
She lives in Delhi with her son, Feroze Varun.
The Penguin Book of Hindu Names for Girls
To Aaryaman, the reason for this book
This book started with the realization that I did not know the meaning of my name. All I knew
was that Menaka (I spell it Maneka) was the name of an apsara in the court of Indra. No one I had
encountered knew the meaning of their names either. Like me, they had been named after historical
or mythological people. I hunted for a book, but while the libraries are full of information about the
gods, I did not come across one book in India which gave the meaning of the name. What does
Sarasvati mean? No, not 'learning' even though she is the goddess of that, but 'full of water'.
Chandrashekhar does not mean Shiva but one who bears the moon on his forehead. I waited for
someone to write a book but the two that emerged listed 'Menaka' as 'apsara'. When my sister
announced that a baby was on the way, I decided to compile the dictionary myself.
The Vedic rishis believed that the name defined the child's character—its face, figure, temper,
morals, tastes and profession. The name Anamika or 'without a name' for instance, would ensure that
the child's future was what she wanted to make it—since she was not hedged in by any preordained
limitations. Most of us look for phonetically pleasing names without realizing their significance. But
Minna means 'fat' and Ambika means 'little mother', Sita means 'furrow', Mina means 'fish' and
Draupadi has no meaning other than 'daughter of Drupada'. A number of names which are very
common do not have any meaning at all. Anita, Lina, Rina and Tina for instance, come from
languages other than Indian. If Roma is of Indian origin it means 'hairy'! The Phul, Sona and Pyar
family (Phulvati, Phulrani, Sonalika, Soriam, Pyari) have no roots in Sanskrit, Pali or any of the
classical Indian languages. Rishma and Rashmini simply do not exist. Malvika is a combination name
that has no meaning. (There is however a plant of the Ipomoea family called Malvika.) My mother's
name Amteshwar is a corruption of, I think, Amritesvara or lord of the amrita. Alternatively it has no
meaning at all Names like Bina are distortions of Vina (the musical instrument), Bihari is not from
Bihar, for instance, but from Vihari or roamer. I have left out the local versions of the classical name
(Poonam comes from Purnima, Rakhi from Rakshaka, for instance) or the local diminutives or
corruptions (e.g. Lacchman or Lakha for Lakshman, Upinder for Upendra, Vanti for Vati). The only
exception I have made is for Rima which is a corruption of Hrim—since this happened to be my
copy editor's name!
A lot of the names in India are combination names. Two primary names (usually of two gods or
of a god and goddess) taken and made into one. For instance Ramakrishna or Radheshyam and in
some cases, the conjoining of two gods produces an entirely new deity. I have tried to give as many
combinations as possible, especially where there is a historical or mythological person with that
compound. However the compounds can be infinite—and a lot of distortion of the primary names
takes place in the mixture. Punjab is full of Gurveens, Tarveens, Harleens, Hargurbirinders and
Harkirats. Some combinations are unique to certain regions in the country. The suffixes of Jit, Mita
and Inder/Indra to the main name are usually from Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Swamy, Appa,
Amma show Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The nagas or serpents who formed such an integral part of
pre-Vedic and Vedic mythology are now confined to south and east India—e.g. Seshan,
Nagabhushan, Phenamani. Even Manasa, the goddess of serpents, is a name far more common in
Bengal than anywhere else in India.
The entries in this dictionary have been designed so that each entry is divided into three
1. The exact or literal meaning. For instance Menaka means 'daughter of Mena'.
2. The intended meaning or rather, the meaning of the meaning. Menaka's intended
meaning is 'of the mountains' because, in Indian mythology, Mena is the consort of Himavan who is
the lord of the Himalayas.
3. This is divided into two sub-categories. The first is the locating of the name in
mythology, history, literature, botany or ornithology. If the name denotes a person out of mythology,
history or literature I have tried to give the name of the mythological consort, the children and the
name of the dynasty, as well as the names of Sanskrit Vedic commentators, grammarians and
playwrights. I have included the names that come from plants, trees, birds and animals along with
their Latin and English names.
The last sub-category is 'another name for—'. In Menaka's case, it is 'another name for Parvati'
as Parvati was born a daughter of Himavan in her incarnation as Uma. (The name Parvati also means
of the mountains.)
I have read the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Kathasaritsagara, the
Panchatantra, the listings of all the Vedas and Upanishads, books on Sanskrit plants
and birds, the catalogues that list the thousand names of each major god, Vedic and Puranic
encyclopaedias and the Buddhist and Jaina mythologies and histories and, of course, Sanskrit
dictionaries to unearth the meanings of the names in this book. Very often the meaning of the name
sounds bizarre unless one knows the context. Aparna which is another name for Parvati in her
incarnation as Himavan's daughter means 'leafless'. This is explained by the legend of Parvati fasting
to marry Shiva.
One result of this search has been new and unexpected perceptions into the traditional Indian
way of life. For instance, what is truth? Or again,
what is right and what is wrong? Jaya and Vijaya were the two door-keepers ofVishnu's palace
in Vaikuntha. One day they were cursed by Lakshmi to be reborn on the earth as mortals. Vishnu
modified the curse on his two devoted servants by saying that if they were killed thrice by him, they
could come back to Vaikuntha. Jaya and Vijaya chose to be reborn as the most evil(or what we
define as evil within the parameters of morality set by our religion) asuras or anti-gods Hiranyaksha
and Hiranyakashipu, Ravana and Kumbhakarna, Shisupala and Dantavaktra so that their deaths at
the hands ofVishnu—in his incarnation of Narasimha, Rama and Krishna—became quickand
inevitable. So were these asuras good or bad? It was inevitable that Sita be separated from Rama
for she had imprisoned a pregnant female parrotand had been cursed by the consort of the parrot to
suffer the same fare. So, is Rama to be blamed for listening to the jibes of a washerman or was bis
action inevitable? Krishna means dark or black and Arjuna fair or white. They are reborn from Nara
and Narayana or man and superman/ god. Do they represent people or the Eastern philosophy of yin
and yang, twoopposites that fuse to complete? I find my attitude towards people and current affairs,
goals and achievements, and even the pursuit of happiness orrather the diminishing of pain has
changed with the unfolding of the historyof each mythological character.
I would like to thank all the people who helped me in the preparation of thisbook. The friends
who brought in the odd name in the beginning, those whopitched in to type the manuscript over and
over again, the pandits and Sanskrit teachers who corrected my mistakes, the editors at Penguin who
put thework into order and spent hours proof-reading and inserting new words till the last minute. I
have used the Sanskrit classical style of spelling withdiacritical marks, to help in the correct
pronunciation of the names.
Sew Delhi Maneka Gandhi
Choosing a name for your child has never been easier
The Penguin Book of Hindu Names has sold over 50,000 copies since it was published
almost a decade ago. The product of several years of research, it is an exhaustive and user-friendly
compilation, with information on sources and usage.
For the first time, thisclassic work is available in a two-volume set, divided into names for boys
and those for girls, making it more accessible. Including modern names and those which are
Popular, The Penguin Book of. Hindu Names for Girls serves as a practical guide for
choosing the perfect name for your daughter. It is also a precise and invaluable sourcebook for
scholars and lay readers alike who would like to know what familiar (and not so familiar) Hindu
names actually mean.
Praise for The Penguin Book of Hindu Names
'Good, serious, authoritative research well presented'
'Offers hours of fascinating browsing pleasure'