Burmese Family Name

04 Apr 2011

“Burmese naming system doesn’t have family name, first name, last name, father’s name, tribe name or husband’s name.”

Family name was the first problem I faced when I decided to go abroad. Family name/last name was mandatory in most of the forms I had to fill. Yes, I don’t have a family name. I’m me.

Maung Maung San The Great 😀

So I divided my name into two parts as Maung Maung and San, and San became the family name.

Burmese people usually doesn’t have family name. Some people only goes with a few syllables in their names and some with single syllable. U Thant, third Secretary-General of the United Nations, was the good example. U (pronounce as oo) is the Mr. for Burmese. So U Thant was Mr. Thant with single syllable name. So, when you see the names such as “Aye, U”, “Mya, Maung”, “Pu, Ma” and “Kyi, Daw”, just keep in mind that U (Oo), Maung are Mr. for Burmese and Ma, daw, Ms. for Burmese. (Well double Maung in my name is exception. It just means I’m more manly than other people. ^_^)

Some people likes to take their father’s name using British naming system. Aung San Suu Kyi is daughter of Aung San and Hayma Nay Win is daughter of Nay Win. Yet you may rarely see those kinds. Burmese people tends to name their new born babies according to astrology rather than naming after someone. Some of ethnics in Myanmar do have family names. And some Muslims and Christians also name after their fathers or grandfathers. But you will hardly see the wife changing her name to the husband’s family name in Myanmar. You can either assume it as easygoing or unique. It’s a real freedom of naming system and you can even change your name anytime going through a few procedures and by treating the friends.

According to history records of Myanmar, the ancient kings of Bagan Era(ပုဂံခေတ်) (9BC) used to name their first names according to their fathers’ last names. Example – ပျူမင်းထီး၊ ထီးမင်းယဉ်၊ ယဉ်မင်းပိုက်၊ ပိုက်သေဉ်လည်၊ သေဉ်လည်ကြောင်၊ ကြောင်တူရစ်. Naming system of early Bagan era seems to be influenced by Chinese names. Arakan(ရခိုင်) kings of Dhanyawadi Era(ဓညဝတီခေတ်) (4BC) used Muslim names though they were Buddhists. Danyawadi was a trade hub of Muslim traders.

There is downside of not having the family name. It’s very difficult to trace someone’s ancestors more than 5 generations. It’s not a big problem if Myanmar had a century lasted family registry office. There was not. I hope the government set up such a record and inquiry service. Anyway, We are not alone on Earth without family names. I just learned that there are some more Asian ethnics without family names too.

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