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What’s in a name?

By John E. Carey - posted Thursday, 3 January 2008

A friend who works near where I work is from India. His name “Naresh” means King. He must have very hopeful parents! Koumba is a woman from Africa. Her name means “First Girl”. Num Pung means “Honey Bee” in Thailand. Her mother ate honey comb while pregnant. Alam is a Bangladeshi name meaning glorious or magnificent. It is usually a boy’s name.

Names fascinate me. Those from the sphere of the Western European influence frequently choose Bible names or old English names for their offspring.

Native American youths, for centuries, earned their names; or were given meaningful names from tribal lore or from nature’s beauty.


Many Asians have lyrical, almost poetic names; my wife among them. She is called Honglien or “Pink Lotus”. By coincidence, my friend from Nepal, Kamala, has the same name: Kamala translates to “Pink Lotus”.

A common man’s name in Nepal is “Ram”. Ram means, “Guard of Hindu”. WOW! What a great name! Other men’s names from Nepal include Mukti (”Freedom”) and Diwakar (”Sun”).

In Vietnam one of my favorite man’s name is “Nghi” (pronounced like “knee”). It means standing straight and tall, standing at attention or really moral and honest.

Africans often bestow meaningful names upon their children. One customer of mine is an African named Shaka. He told me he is named for the greatest warrior of all time: Shaka who united the Zulu nation in Africa. He said Shaka is viewed and respected for his military adeptness like Attila the Hun or Alexander the Great.

Islamic people have some wonderful names. Monzer (as with all of our names there are various spellings) means “One Who Warns” or “The Warner”. It is good to name a little girl baby Rahil, which means “innocent”.

The first thing we have to clarify is this: in our modern world, we tend to lump people and even races into groups like “Native American”. When Columbus arrived in North America there were as many as 500 tribes; many with languages as different as Chinese is from English. The tribes also had many cultural and religious variations. So as we open this discussion, I penalise myself from the start because I am prone to fall into the trap of lumping people together in huge and unnatural generalities like “all Asians” even though I know that is not correct. I know the Vietnamese are vastly different from the Filipino, for example, even though both are Asians. Even among the Vietnamese there are several “tribes” and cultures.


I have an acquaintance from Thailand named Wantanee. It means “The Greeter”. Put your hands together as if in Christian prayer and bow: that’s “The Greeter”.

I have been blessed to know many different people from different parts of the world. Some of my Native American friends, that come from different tribes, have names like “Wild Horse”, “Truth to Tell”, “Comes Killing”, “Soars with Eagles”, and my favorite of all: “Shot-to-Pieces”. I have been told that many Native American earn their names through some act of bravery or some other memorable event. A young boy that kills a bear might be called “Bear Slayer” for example.

Many who trace their lineage back to Christian European nations might have Bible names. I am named for John the Apostle and we celebrate his Feast Day in the Catholic calendar on this day. My brothers have old English names: William and Thomas. My sisters also have traditional English names: Pamela and Elizabeth. My cousin is Edward as in Edward the Confessor, I think. Charles means “manly” or “strong”. I’ll bet you didn’t know that!

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First published at Peace and Freedom II on January 1, 2008.

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About the Author

John E. Carey has been a military analyst for 30 years.

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