THE PENGUIN BOOK OF HINDU NAMES
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
was elected to Parliament in November 1989 and was later appointed Minister of State for
Environment and Forests, a post she held till June 1991.
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.
To Aaryaman, the reason for this hook
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. Aaryaman is
now almost four years old!
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, Sonam, 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 happens to be my copy
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,
Aroma 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
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
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
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 dictionary. 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 of Vishnu'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 of Vishnu—in his incarnation of
Narasimha, Rama and Krishna—became quick and inevitable. So were these asuras good or bad?
It was inevitable that Sita be separated from Rama for she had imprisoned a pregnant female parrot
and had been cursed by the consort of the parrot to suffer the same fate. So, is Rama to be blamed
for listening to the jibes of a washerman or was his 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, two opposites that fuse to
complete? I find my attitude towards people and current affairs, goals and achievements, and even
the pursuit of happiness or rather the diminishing of pain has changed with the unfolding of the history
of each mythological character.
I would like to thank all the people who helped me in the preparation of this book. The friends
who brought in the odd name in the beginning, those who pitched in to type the manuscript over and
over again, the pandits and Sanskrit teachers who corrected my mistakes, the editors at Penguin who
put the work into order and spent hours proof-reading and inserting new words till the last minute. I
have used the Sanskrit classical style of spelling with diacritical marks, to help in the correct
pronunciation of the names.
New Delhi December 1991
The product of several years of research, The Penguin Book of Hindu Names is a
comprehensive compilation of Hindu names in current use. The meaning of each of the approximately
20,000 names in the volume is extensively discussed and information on sources and usage is also
provided. The book is cross-referenced to make it easier to use. The aim of the work is twofold: to
serve as a practical guide for parents choosing a name for their offspring; and to provide a precise
and in-depth sourcebook for scholars, pandits and lay readers who would like to know what familiar
(and not so familiar) Hindu names actually mean.
'Good and serious, authoritative research well presented'
'The dictionary offers hours of fascinating browsing pleasure' Deccan Herald