A few years back, I found myself at the University of Albany working on a TESOL degree (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). As part of this, I took a communications class and was required to write a paper. No problem there as I actually like writing papers.
For my topic I chose to tackle the complex subject of Burmese names.
Over the next few weeks I plan to post this paper in its entirety.
Professor B.J. Fehr
April 30, 2010
“I was named after the sound of gunfire and I have no last name”
Names of Karen and Burmese people in the Capital District.
Introduction: Burmese names.
Why they are confusing.
Why they are important. Refugee population
Naming practices in general:
terminology (onomastics, anthropynymy)
theophoric or religious names
An introduction to the nation of Burma
Burma does not have a single ethnic group but is instead a multi-ethnic state
Introduce ethnic groups:
Chinese and Indians
Note that for many of these groups diversity is the norm
Sense of intra-ethnic identity or nationalism came relatively late
For many literacy is a late 19th Century introduction
Colonial experience did not create a functional state with a pan-ethnic sense of Burmese nationalism. Although the national government does strive for this goal, they have neither a realistic plan nor strong support to achieve this goal.
Therefore Burma does not have a single naming system but instead has several naming systems.
The Burmese refugee community of the Capital District includes primarily Burmans, Karen, Chin and Karenni . Although other groups may be discussed in passing, these are the groups that this paper will focus on.
The names of Burmese of Chinese or South Asian descent will not be discussed in this paper. This is not a political statement. However, the naming practices of these ethnic groups are both complex and well documented elsewhere.
The Burmese language and Burman people. A good place to start.
The Burmese language.
Tends to sound monosyllabic to the Western ear.
Transliterating the script with Roman letters. No fixed system exists. \
Legacy of colonialism and the ruling juntas campaign for “correcting names.”
Differences from Western practice.
No family name.
Usually no reference to family in name at all.
Although sometimes this does happen. (i.e. Aung San Su Kyi)
Wife does not change her name upon marriage.
Sometimes this does happen in the west.
Burmese names are often tied in with Burmese astrological practices. This is not unique to Burmans. There are traces of the practice in South Asian and Chinese culture too.
Burmese astrology is heavily centered around an 8 day week (Wednesday is divided into an early and late half.)
Burmans remember this day of the week and consider it important.
Burmans often use titles. There are many of these.
Burmans sometimes change their name on special occasions.
Burmese names are usually 2 syllables, sometimes 3, yet the can have one or four syllables.
The syllables of Burmese names usually pleasant meaning.
Occasionally Burmese use Western names. These are generally nicknames or school names.
Monks have special names that come from the Pali language.
Karen Names and Naming Practices
Pwo Karen naming practices
Choice of name
Conclusions and Implications for further research
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