I’ve absolutely been in love with the Indian subcontinent’s culture since the first semester of my ninth grade year, when that was the starting topic in my Global Studies class. I particularly love Indian food, music, and religion. When I read Devi Vanamali’s The Play of God during the summer of 2002, my interest in Indian culture was reawakened, and I was greatly affected by the story of Krishna. It really is true that it shows us a way of relating to the Divine on so many different levels, not just as some stern old man wielding a scepter.

My Atlantic City characters Violet and Elaine convert to Hinduism in the early 1950s, during college. Violet raises her eventual ten children (two sets of twins and two sets of triplets) in the faith, and they’re religious to varying degrees. Violet’s little sister Scarlett also joins Hinduism and raises her own children in the faith. Of Elaine’s two children, only her firstborn, Mary Julia, remains Hindu past early childhood (for reasons I can’t reveal because I don’t want to give away a massive spoiler). Mary Julia is quite sad when only two of her five kids, Carrie and Bruce, choose to remain Hindu. Ajax and Dana become Armenian Orthodox, and Toni joins Modern Orthodox Judaism.

Violet’s third daughter, Rose, gives Indian middle names to six of her ten children. Rose’s husband is Cinnimin’s youngest son Ainsworth.

Devanagari alphabet:

India’s languages, including the dead Sanskrit, are written in the Devanagari alphabet. Like Korean and Thai, it’s one of those alphabets I recognise, but that’s where it ends. I don’t know any of the letters from Adam. I know the Roman, Cyrillic, Greek, Hebrew, Armenian, and Georgian alphabets, but nothing else currently. Just thinking about learning Devanangari, Persian, Arabic, or any of the Chinese alphabets is enough of a nightmare! My seventh alphabet will probably be Church Slavonic, though I do want to eventually get back into learning Japanese.

Like Hebrew, Persian, and Arabic, transliteration can vary widely. Not everyone will represent sounds in the same way. I have to take other people’s more experienced word for it in this case, not like how I can make my own decisions about how I prefer to render a Hebrew name or word.

Sources of names:

Many Indian names come from Sanskrit and Hindu mythohistory, though others come from more contemporary Hindi etymologies. Other names have origins in Persian (the court language of the Mughal period), Bengali, and Punjabi (the native language of the Sikh people). India has a dizzying number of languages, so people in different regions may use variant spellings of the same name.

The Indian languages form the Indo part of the vast Indo–European language family, though the similarities between them and the more familiar languages (e.g., English, French, Russian, German, Swedish) aren’t generally immediately discernible. However, there are a surprising number of similarities between Sanskrit and English. Sanskrit, after all, did break off from Proto–Indo–European much earlier than English began evolving.

Some common Indian names:


Ananta, Anantha (Infinite; endless)
Arya (Noble; honourable)
Bala (Young)
Chanda (Passionate; fierce; hot)
Chandra (Moon)
Gulshan (Rose garden)
Inderjit (Conqueror of Indra)
Jaswinder (Indra of the thunderbolt) (the second middle name of Rose and Ainsworth’s next-youngest child Michael, so chosen because he was conceived during the big thunderstorm at Woodstock II in the summer of 1994)
Jaya (Victory)
Jyoti, Jyothi (Light)
Kamala (Lotus or Pale red)
Kiran (Dust, thread, or sunbeam)
Lalita (Charming, playful, desirable)
Madhu (Sweet, honey)
Madhur (Sweet)
Mandeep (Lamp of the mind)
Mitra, Mithra (Friend)
Mohana (Charming, bewitching, infatuating)
Neelam, Nilam (Sapphire)
Nitya, Nithya (Eternal, always)
Padma (Lotus)
Ratna (Jewel)
Ravinder (Lord of the Sun)
Roshan (Bright, light)
Sashi, Shashi (Having a hare)
Shyama (Blue, black, dark)
Sushila (Good-tempered, well-disposed)
Swapna (Sleep, dream)
Swarna (Golden or Good colour)
Vijaya (Victory)


Abhay (Fearless)
Aditya (Belonging to [mother goddess] Aditi)
Agni (Fire)
Ajit, Ajith, Ajeet (Invincible or He who has conquered)
Akash (Sky, open space)
Akhil (Complete, whole)
Amar (Immortal)
Amit (Infinite, immeasurable)
Amitabh (Immeasurable splendour)
Amrit (Immortal; literally, Not dead)
Anand (Bliss, happiness)
Anik (Splendour or Army)
Anil (Wind, air)
Aniruddha (Ungovernable, unobstructed)
Anish (Paramount, supreme)
Anit (Without guile or Leader)
Ankur (Sapling, shoot, sprout)
Anuj (Younger, born later)
Anupam (Matchless, incomparable)
Aravinda, Aravind (Lotus)
Arjuna, Arjun (Clear, white)
Aruna, Arun (Reddish-brown)
Asim, Aseem (Limitless, boundless)
Ashoka, Ashok (Without sorrow)
Avinash (Indestructible)
Azad (Free)
Baladeva, Baladev (God of strength)
Balarama (Strong soul)
Bharata, Bharat (Being maintained)
Bhaskara, Bhaskar (Shining)
Bhima (Awful, terrible)
Bhishma (Dreadful, terrible)
Brahma (Prayer)
Brijesha, Brijesh (Ruler of Brij [a region])
Chandan (Sandalwood)
Chandrakant (Belovèd by the Moon)
Chetan (Soul, conscious, visible)
Chiranjivi, Chiranjeevi (Infinite, long-lived)
Damodara, Damodar (Rope around the belly)
Dayaram (Compassion of Rama)
Devdan, Debdan, Deodan (Gift of the gods)
Deepak, Dipaka (Exciting, inflaming)
Dev (God)
Devdas (Servant of the gods)
Devaraja, Devraj (King of gods)
Dhananjay (Winning wealth)
Dhaval (Dazzling white)
Dilip, Dilipa, Duleep (Protector of Delhi)
Dinesh (Day lord)
Drupada (Wooden pillar)
Durai (Leader, chief)
Ganesha, Ganesh (Lord of hordes)
Geevarghese, Varghese (George)
Girisha, Girish (Lord of the mountain)
Gopala, Gopal (Cow protector)
Gopinatha, Gopinath (Leader of the gopis [cow-herding girls])
Gotama, Gautam, Gautama (The best ox)
Govinda, Govind, Gobind (Cow finder)
Harendra, Harinder (Hari [Vishnu] and Indra)
Hari (Yellow, brown, tawny; Monkey, horse, lion)
Harisha, Harish (Lord of monkeys)
Harsha, Harshad, Harshal (Happiness)
Inderpal (Protector of Indra)
Indra (Possessing drops of rain)
Isha (Lord, master)
Jagannatha, Jagannath (Master of the world)
Jagdish (Ruler of the world)
Jagjit (Conqueror of the world)
Jay, Jai, Jaya (Victory)
Jaidev (Divine victory)
Jayanta, Jayant (Victorious)
Jayendra (Lord of victory)
Jaywant (Possessing victory)
Jitendra, Jitender, Jeetendra, Jitinder (Conqueror of Indra)
Kailash (Shiva’s mountain paradise in the Himalayas)
Kalidasa, Kalidas (Servant of Kali [goddess of destruction])
Kalyana, Kalyan (Auspicious, lovely, beautiful)
Kama (Desire, love)
Kamal (Lotus or Pale red)
Kapila, Kapil (Reddish-brown, monkey)
Karna, Karan (Ear)
Kavi (Sage, wise man, poet)
Kishor, Kishore (Colt)
Krishna, Kishan, Kishen, Kistna (Dark, black)
Kshitij (Horizon or Born of the Earth)
Kumara, Kumar (Son, boy)
Kunala, Kunal (Lotus)
Lakshmana, Lakshman (Having lucky marks)
Lal (To play, to caress)
Lalit (Desirable, playful, charming)
Lochan (The eye)
Madhava, Madhav (Vernal, of the springtime)
Madhukar (Honey-maker, bee)
Mahavira, Mahavir (Great hero)
Mahendra, Mahinder, Mohinder (Great Indra)
Mahesha, Mahesh (Great lord)
Mani (Jewel)
Maninder (Lord of the mind)
Manish (Lord of the mind)
Manu (Thinking, wise)
Mayur (Peacock)
Mitul (Measured)
Mohan (Charming)
Mohandas (Servant of Mohana)
Mukesha, Mukesh (Ruler of Muka)
Mukul (Blossom, bud)
Murali (Flute)
Nagendra (Lord of snakes)
Nakula (He who is most handsome in the lineage; full of love)
Nala (Stem)
Nanda (Joy)
Narayana, Narayan (Path of man)
Narendra, Narinder (Lord of men)
Navin, Naveen (New)
Nikhil (Entire, whole)
Ninad (Hum, sound)
Niraj (Illuminate)
Nirav (Quiet)
Nishant (Night’s end, dawn)
Nitin (Moral, ethical)
Pallav, Pallab (Budding leaf, shoot)
Pankaja, Pankaj (Born of mud)
Partha, Parth (Son of Pritha [another name for Kunti, mother of the five Pandava brothers])
Pitambara, Pitambar (Yellow garments)
Prabhakara, Prabhakar (Light maker)
Prabhat (Shining forth, morning)
Prabhu (Master, powerful, mighty)
Prabodh (Awakening)
Pradip, Pradeep (Lantern, light)
Pramoda, Pramod (Joy)
Pran (Breath)
Pranav (another name for Om)
Pranay (Love, leader, guidance)
Prasad (Clearness, brightness)
Prasanna (Tranquil, bright, clear)
Pratap (Glory, splendour, heat)
Pravin (Skilled)
Prem (Affection, love)
Punit (Purified, cleaned)
Purushottama, Purushottam (The best man)
Ravinda, Ravindra, Ravinder, Rabindra (Lord of the Sun)
Raghu (Swift)
Rahul (Efficient, able)
Raj, Raja (King or Prince)
Rajendra, Rajender, Rajinder (Lord of kings)
Rajesh (Ruler of kings)
Rajiv (Striped)
Rajnish, Rajneesh (Lord of the night)
Rakesh (Lord of the full Moon day)
Rama, Ram (Pleasing)
Ramachandra, Ramachander (Rama Moon)
Ramakrishna (Rama and Krishna)
Ramesha, Ramesh (Ruler of Rama)
Rameshwar (Lord Rama)
Ranjit, Ranjeet, Ranj (Delighted, coloured, pleased)
Ratnam, Ratan, Rathna, Ratna (Jewel)
Ravi (Sun)
Rishi (Sage, poet)
Rohan (Ascending)
Rohit (Red)
Sachin (Pure)
Samir (Wind)
Sandip, Sandeep (Blazing)
Sanjaya, Sanjay (Triumphant, completely victorious)
Sanjit, Sanjeet (Invincible, complete victory)
Sanjiv, Sanjeev (Reviving, living)
Saral (Straight)
Satish (Lord of Sati)
Savitr (Stimulator, rouser)
Shahrukh (Royal face)
Shankar, Sankar, Shankara (Lucky-making)
Shantanu (Wholesome)
Sharma (Joy, comfort, protection)
Shekhar, Sekar (Peak, crest)
Shiva, Sib (Kind, auspicious, benign)
Shresth (Best, most excellent)
Shrinivas (The abode of Shri)
Shripati (Husband of Shri)
Shrivatsa (Favourite of Shri)
Shyamal, Shyam (Black, dark)
Siddhartha, Siddharta (One who has accomplished a goal)
Singh (Lion)
Skanda (Spilling, spurting)
Subhash (Eloquent)
Sudarshan (Beautiful, good-looking)
Sudhir (Very wise, very considerate)
Sujay (Great victory)
Suman (Good mind, well-disposed)
Sumantra (Good advice)
Sundara, Sundar, Sunder (Beautiful)
Sunil (Very blue)
Suraj (Born of the gods)
Surendra, Surinder (Lord of gods)
Suresha, Suresh (Ruler of the gods)
Surya (Sun)
Swapan (Sleeping, dreaming)
Swapnil (Dreamlike)
Swaran (Golden or Good colour)
Vasanta, Vasant, Basant (Spring or Brilliant)
Vasu, Basu (Excellent, bright)
Venkata, Venkat (A sacred hill)
Vijaya, Vijay, Bijay, Bijoy (Victory)
Vikram, Vikrama (Valour or Stride; pace)
Vimal (Spotless, pure, clean)
Vinay (Modesty, guidance, leading)
Vipin, Bipin (Forest)
Vipul (Plenty, large, extensive)
Vishal (Spacious, broad, wide)
Vivek (Discrimination, distinction, wisdom)
Yama (Reign, curb; the god of death)
Yash (Fame, glory)


Abha (Light, splendour)
Abhilasha (Wish, desire)
Aditi (Freedom, security; Entire, boundless)
Aishwarya (Wealth, prosperity)
Akansha (Wish, desire)
Amala (Pure, clean)
Amita (Infinite, immeasurable)
Amrita (Immortal)
Ananda, Anandi (Bliss, happiness)
Anika (Splendour or Army)
Anila (Wind)
Anima (Minuteness)
Anita (Leader or Without guile)
Anjali (Offering)
Ankita (Marked)
Anuja (Younger, born later)
Anupama (Matchless, incomparable)
Aparajita (Unconquered)
Aradhana (Worship)
Archana (Praising, honouring)
Arundhati (Not restrained; also the name of a star)
Asha, Esha (Hope, desire, wish)
Avani (Earth)
Avanti (An ancient kingdom)
Chandana (Sandalwood)
Chandrakanta (Belovèd by the Moon)
Chetana (Soul, visible, conscious)
Damayanti (Subduing)
Darshana (Philosophy, understanding, seeing)
Dipali, Deepali (Row of lamps)
Dipti, Deepti (Light, brightness)
Devi (Goddess)
Devika (Little goddess)
Dipika (Light, lamp)
Divya (Heavenly, Divine)
Draupadi (Daughter of Drupada)
Drishti (Sight)
Durga (Unattainable)
Gauri, Gowri (White)
Gita (Song)
Ila (Speech or Earth)
Indira (Beauty)
Indrani (Queen of Indra)
Indu (Bright drop; i.e., the Moon)
Jayanti (Victorious)
Jayashri (Goddess of victory)
Jyotsana, Jyotsna (Moonlight)
Kajal (Medical lotion, kohl)
Kala (Virtue, artform)
Kali (The black one)
Kalpana (Fantasy, imagining)
Kalyani (Beautiful, lovely, auspicious)
Kamini (Desirable)
Kanchana (Golden)
Kanta (Desirable, beautiful)
Karishma (Miracle)
Kashi, Kasi (A holy city)
Kaur (Princess)
Kausalya (Of the Kosala people)
Kaveri (A river)
Kavita (Poem)
Kirtida (One who bestows fame)
Kishori (Colt)
Kshitija (Horizon or Born of the Earth)
Kumari (Daughter, girl)
Kunti (Spear)
Lakshmi (Mark, sign)
Lata (Creeping plant, vine)
Lavanya (Grace, beauty)
Lila, Leela (Amusement, play)
Lilavati (Charming, amusing, playful)
Lina (United, absorbed)
Lochana (The eye)
Madhavi (Vernal, of the springtime)
Madhuri (Sweetness)
Mala (Necklace)
Malati (Jasmine)
Malini (Fragrant)
Manisha (Wisdom, thought)
Manju, Manjula (Beautiful, lovely)
Manjusha (Small chest, small box)
Maya (Illusion)
Mina, Meena (Fish)
Minali (Fish-catcher)
Mira, Meera (Ocean, sea)
Mohini (Infatuating)
Mridula (Soft)
Mukta (Liberated)
Nalini (Lotus)
Nandita (Happy)
Nila, Neela (Dark blue)
Neha (Loving)
Nikita, Niketa (Habitation, house)
Nikhila (Entire, whole)
Nilima (Blue)
Nirmala (Clean, pure)
Nirupama (Matchless, unequaled)
Nisha (Night)
Nitika (Moral)
Padmavati (Possessing lotuses)
Padmini (Full of lotuses)
Pallavi (Shoot, budding leaf)
Parvati (Daughter of the mountains)
Pratibha (Intelligence, splendour, light)
Pratima (Reflection, likeness, image)
Priti, Preeti (Love, joy, pleasure)
Priya (Belovèd)
Purnima, Poornima (Full Moon)
Pushpa (Flower)
Rachana, Rachna (Creation)
Radha (Success)
Rajani (The dark one)
Rajkumari (Princess)
Rajni, Rani (Queen)
Rashmi (Ray of sunlight or Rope)
Rati (Pleasure, rest)
Reshmi (Silk)
Reva (One that moves)
Rina, Reena (Melted)
Ritika (Stream, movement, or Brass)
Riya (Singer)
Roshanara (Light of the assembly)
Roshni (Lustre, brilliance)
Rukmini (Adorned with gold)
Rupinder (Greatest beauty)
Sandhya (Twilight)
Sanjana (Creator, uniter)
Sarala (Straight)
Saraswati (Possessing water)
Sarika (Myna bird)
Sarita (Flowing)
Sati (Truthful)
Savitri (Relating to the Sun)
Shailaja (Daughter of the mountain)
Shakti (Power)
Shakuntala (Bird)
Shanta (Calm, pacified)
Shanti, Shanthi (Tranquility, peace, quiet)
Sharmila (Joy, comfort, protection)
Shila, Sheela (Conduct, character)
Shivali (Belovèd of Shiva)
Shobha (Brilliance)
Shreya (Lucky, auspicious)
Shri, Sri (Beauty, radiance, diffusing light)
Shweta (White)
Shyamal (Dark, black)
Siddhi (Attainment, success, accomplishment)
Sima, Seema (Limit, boundary)
Sita, Seeta, Seetha (Furrow)
Sitara (Star)
Sona (Gold)
Sudarshana (Beautiful, good-looking)
Sulabha (Natural, simple, easy)
Sumati (Good mind, wise)
Sunita (Polite, well-conducted)
Sunitha (Righteous, good guidance)
Suniti (Good conduct)
Swati (The third-brightest star in the night sky)
Tara (Star)
Trishna (Desire, thirst)
Uma (Flax)
Upasana (Devotion, worship)
Urvi (Wide)
Usha (Dawn)
Vasanti (Spring or Brilliance)
Vasuda (Granting wealth)
Vasudha (Producer of wealth)
Vasundhara (Possessor of wealth)
Veda (Knowledge)
Vena (Yearning)
Vidya (Learning, science, knowledge)
Vimala (Clean, pure, spotless)
Vina (Lute)
Yami (Pair)
Yamuna (A river)

3 thoughts on “A primer on Indian names

  1. I have always been really interested in Indian culture and fashion. If only I could write a book about it without coming across as culture appropriation.


  2. Great that you like indian culture. I just want to make the simple point that indian culture goes well beyond sanskrit. There is a whole universe of Dravidian languages, with Tamil arguably older than Sanskrit. It’s a pity that because Westerners found kinship between their languages and Sanskrit, they glorified it, to the exclusion of Dravidian languages.


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