An Introduction to Sikh Names

Traditionally, babies born to Sikh families are given names that have spiritual significance, often chosen from scriptures. Usuallly, newborns are given their names shortly after birth, but Sikh names may also be given to individuals at the time of marriage, at the time of initiation (baptism), or at any time by anyone wishing to adopt a spiritual name.

Here are some things to know about Sikh names and how they are given

Before You Select a Name

Hukam is a verse read at random from the Sikh Scripture Guru Granth Sahib
Hukam is a verse read at random from the Sikh Scripture Guru Granth Sahib. Photo © [Gurumustuk Singh Khalsa]

In Sikhism, Sikh names are usually selected by randomly picking a hukam or  Sikh scripture after a prayer is said. The first letter of the verse determines the name to be chosen.

Typically, the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book) is opened by the priest (called the Granthi), and a passage is randomly read out loud. The family then chooses a name that starts with the first letter of the passage read. The baby's name is read to the congregation, then the Granthi adds the work "Singh" (lion) if the child is a boy, andthe word "Kaur" (princess) if it is a girl. 

In Sikhism, first names have no gender association and are interchangeable for boys and girls.

A different second name, Khalsa, is given to those selecting a name when they are initiated to Sikhism as adults. 

Names Have Spiritual Meaning

Gurpreet Love of the Enlightener
Gurpreet Love of the Enlightener. Photo © [S Khalsa]

Most names are selected from Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism's holy scripture, and therefore have spiritual meanings. Many Punjabi baby names also have Sikhism origins.

The original spelling of Sikh names are in Gurmukhi script or Punjabi alphabet, but in the West are spelled phonetically with corresponding Roman letters.

Janam Naam Sanskar: the Sikh Baby-Naming Ceremony

Khalsa Baby With Kakar
Khalsa Baby With Kakar. Photo © [S Khalsa]

A newborn is given a spiritual Sikh name when the infant is formally presented by the family to Guru Granth Sahib for the naming ceremony, known as Janam Naam Sanskar.

A kirtan program is held, featuring hymns sung on behalf of the newborn.

Taking a Name Upon Marriage

Wedding Round
Wedding Round. Photo © [Courtesy Guru Khalsa]

Upon marriage, a bride's in-laws may choose to give her a new spiritual name. The groom may also wish to take a spiritual name.

Or, a couple may decide to share a first name, followed by Singh or Kaur, depending on gender.

Taking a Name Upon Initiation

Panj Pyare Instruct Khalsa Initiates
Panj Pyare Instruct Khalsa Initiates. Photo © [Ravitej Singh Khalsa / Eugene, Oregon / USA]

Adult initiates into the Khalsa order may be given a new Sikh spiritual name by the Panj Pyare. The name is decided upon after reading a random verse fo scripture. All initiates also take the name of either Singh or Kaur, depending on gender.

The Importance of a Spiritual Name

Charanpal Protector of the Lotus Feet
Charanpal Protector of the Lotus Feet. Photo © [Courtesy Charanpal Kaur]

As an initiate, taking a spiritual name is a step onto the pathway of a life with a spiritual focus. With options ranging from allowing an online application to generate a name, to choosing a name with careful intent based on ardas (prayer) and hukam (the will of God), it is an important decision requiring you to weigh several issues: 

  •  How much importance do you give to having a spiritual name?
  • Do you intend to use your name in everyday life?
  • Will you use your name at work, and at play, or reserve it mostly for times of fellowship and worship?

In the end, let your spiritual passion be your guide in this important decision.