Tibetan Names

By: Song Shuhong, Tibet from all Angles
Updated: May 24, 2018

Tibetan names have very rich connotations. Before Buddhism was introduced into Tibet, each Tibetan had a unique name with the simple and concise contents. After Buddhism arrived, Tibetan names changed significantly, and most of them have a Buddhist coloring. The custom that monks chose names for ordinary people was gradually formed with name connotations much related to religion.


Tibetans think that names of children should be selected very seriously, because it is related to their growth and life development. Many people invite Living Buddhas, eminent monks or prestigious elders to choose names.


There is no special limitation on the names of Tibetan children, and no distinction by rank. Each Tibetan has a first name rather than a surname. Generally, names reflect gender, and a name usually consists of two or four words. They usually stem from the Buddhist classics, which means many names are the same. But the words of “elder” and “younger”, or information such as his/her characteristics, place of birth, place of residence or career, can be added in front of the given name for the purpose of distinction.


In the 7th century Songtsan Gambo established the Tubo Kingdom, conferring territories and titles on meritorious officials; such people added the territory name in front of their own to show their status and official rank. Ordinary people only have first names such as Dorje Cedain and Soinam Wangdui. For convenience, people only use two words of the name in addressing someone. For example, Dorje Cedain is abbreviated as Dorje.


After becoming a monk, a man regardless of the age will be tonsured by the Kampus and will be given a dharma name to replace the original one. If a monk or Living Buddha is promoted to the top level, his name will be added with the information of priesthood or title. For example, in Kampus Lhunzhol Taokai, Kampus is the priesthood. The name of a Living Buddha is added with the name of a monastery or ancestral temple.