Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Refugee Stuff, Burmese Names, Part Four, Naming Practices in General and a Brief Introduction to Burma

Naming Practices in General

Naming practices are studied and like most fields of study have even taken on their own terminology. For instance, although the study of names and naming is commonly referred to as “onomastics,” one source refers to the study of names and naming practices within anthropology as “anthroponymy.” (Moore, J.H.) Scholars discuss issues such as the degree of individuation versus collectivization in a culture's naming practices. In other words, do names within a culture emphasize an individual's connection to others, such as clan or family, or instead completely differentiate and distinguish them from other members of their society? (Collier & Bricker)

Within cultures names tend to be divisible into certain categories. Some of this categorization appears in the names of refugees from Burma.

In most cultures of Burma, names derive from something positive with people being given names whose origin lies in something admirable or positive in their culture. Examples of this will be given below for both Burman and Karen cultures. (Emeneau)

Theophoric names are names whose origins lie in religious beliefs or practices. (Emeneau) These are common among the peoples of Burma from all major religions including Buddhists, Christians and Muslims. While Christians and Muslims often take names from their religious traditions, often modified for local pronunciation, and use them as either a primary or secondary name, in Buddhists often tie the structure of their name to the Burmese astrological system. For instance the first syllable of a Burmese Buddhists name is chosen to conform to a specific system grounded within eight divisions. (The Burmese week is divided into seven days but for astrological purposes Wednesday is divided into two halves, early and late, making eight divisions within the week.) Buddhist monks and nuns, including persons who enter the monastery for a limited time, a common practice within Burmese culture, take a special name which is grounded in Pali, an important ritual language in Burmese-style Theravada Buddhism. This monastic name also conforms to the sound system specified within Burmese Buddhism. Additionally some Pali words have become common names in Burman culture. (i.e. “Sanda” means “moon” in Pali, but is a possible name for Burman and Karen people.) (Interview.)

Apotropaic names are names based on undesirable or unattractive things. Although common in some cultures, I know of no examples of such names in the cultures of Burma. (Although this is not to say that they do not exist. One thing that a person interested in Burma learns quickly is that Burma is a very complex and confusing place.)

An Introduction to the nation of Burma (Myanmar)

Burma is a large and troubled nation in southeast Asia. It is bordered by India and Bangladesh to the west, by China to the north, and Thailand and Laos to the east. Although they do not border each other, many refugees who flee the country spend time in Malaysia located to the south and relatively easy to reach by ocean or air travel. For reasons that are complex and will be covered later in this paper the nation is also known as Myanmar. There is great controversy, as well as significance, over the choice of name used.

Estimates of the population of Burma vary but tend to range between 45 and 65 million. A former British colony, the nation was given independence in 1949 although a successful, stable, functioning, national democracy with a healthy economy was never achieved. Instead the country has been wracked by a repressive military dictatorship, intermittent warfare, serious economic problems and ethnic strife.

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