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Environmental Elements in Bengali Anthroponymy

 Dr. Mandana Kolahdouz Mohammadi
Department of Linguistics and Translation Studies
PNU University, Iran


The present paper addresses Bengali personal names and considers personal naming as an important aspect of nature love among the people of this nation. It takes linguistics eco-onomastic approach and studies Bengali names based on environmental elements. In this regard, online Bengali personal names were analyzed and categorized based on their content meaning. The findings of the present study approved the hypotheses of the present article regarding the trace of environmental elements and environmental approaches in male and female Bengali proper names. The third hypothesis partially accepted as 41.57% of male Bengali proper names included elements such as moon and sun and this ration regarding female names was 28.02%, but the total frequency of flower representation in female names (36.81) was more than any other elements in both genders.

Keywords: Bengali Proper Names, Anthroponymy, Environmental Elements

1. Introduction

Personal names are available in any language and form a special group within the vocabulary of that language. According to Al-Zumor (2009:15), naming is a specific linguistic act, intimately linked with values, traditions, hopes, fears, and events in people’s lives. Names reveal the preferences of their holders in terms of real-life objects, actions, features, and beliefs (Rosenhouse, 2002). In naming a newborn baby, the name is used to refer to him for the rest of his life, and at the same time, it can send a message, express a hope or prayer, as well as cultural or religious tradition (Alford, 1987: 51). Human naming can be considered as a universal cultural practice since it provides a symbolic system of individual identification (Anyachebelu, 2015: 215).

2. Review of Literature

Names are the tags that each society gives to its people and that name if not changed is the identity that a person will carry all over his or her life. In should be noted that the interpretations attached to the names may vary from one culture to another. At the same time, a personal name can send a message, express a hope or prayer, as well as cultural or religious traditions (Alford 1987: 51). Koul (1995) regarding the personal names of Kashmiri asserts that personal names are closely related to the socio-cultural structure of people and illuminate the socio-cultural atmosphere of the people. Ogie (2002) argues that Edo's names are used to affirm certain aspects of this culture. Agyekum’s study (2006) looks at Akan names within the pure linguistic anthropology. According to this study names, not arbitrary labels but have socio-cultural functions and meanings. Al-Zumor (2009) studies the anthroponomy of Yemeni naming practices. One of the most important findings of his study is that naming indicated the embedded social and cultural attitude within a certain society. Anyachebelu (2015) deals with the patterns of Igbo spousal names, their social relevance, and their implications in society. In this regard, names are not just labels but fundamentals in the reflection of certain social values among the Igbo people.

On the other hand, from an environmental point of view, Mühlhäusler (2003) asserts that the environment builds the language, and there is a close interconnection between language and environment. Stibbe (2014: 125) explains ecolinguistics as the study of the connection between human beings and the physical environment. Couto (2015), considers ecolinguistics as the interactions between language and its natural environment. Based on these definitions, there can be a relationship between the naming of human beings and their living environment. As it is reviewed, personal names have been studied within separate disciplines, but to date, there has been little attention toward the trace of the environment in proper names. What makes the study of personal names (anthroponymy) significant is that they occur in any language and change, develop, and die out, and they have a life cycle similar to other lexical items (Rosenhouse, 2002). Wheeler (2018) asserts a close relationship between languages and cultures in the naming process, which provides a useful opening point for ethnographic investigations. As a result, the present study aims to find out the trace of eco-onomastic in Bengali proper names. The main hypothesis of the present article is that trace of environmental elements such as sun, moon, earth, animal, etc. are available in Bengali proper names. The second hypothesis is that in addition to environmental elements, the environmental approaches are also available in Bengali proper names. The third hypothesis is that female Bengali proper names include more trace of elements such as sun, flower, and moon than male Bengali proper names.

3. Methodology

To collect the data, some keywords of environmental elements such as sun, fire; sea, and tree were searched in Baby Name Direct. This website is an online database of information related to personal names along with their gender and meaning. During this study, the author analyzed 1786 Bengali origin proper names for both male(n=893) and female (n=893) genders and classified them through the content analysis of their meanings. To ensure the accuracy, the obtained data were rechecked through other online dictionaries and finally were classified based on their environmental elements and frequency of occurrence.

4. Data Analysis

This section deals with the categories of the names, their frequencies, and the data analysis. According to the table (1), it can be inferred that out of 893 male Bengali names a total number of 190 were related to environmental elements.  

Based on this table, the element of the moon had the highest frequency. It should be noted that due to the cultural background some names indicated two environmental elements at the same time for instance Avi (means sun and air), Madur (a bird which flies in the sky) therefore the author considered them under both categories. On the other hand, for one element there was various names such as Bhupendra, Prithwish, etc. (the lord of the earth) which were classified under the category of earth. Besides, names such as lord of the ocean (Varindra), lord of rain (Baruna) were categorized under ocean and rain categories respectively. Names such as Bipin (forest tiger), Fahad (panther), Fani (snake) were also categorized under animal-related category. In some cases, there were two types of spelling which one of them was considered for instance in the case of the vishnai/vishnay (flowers of lord vishnu - Krishna) was also available with the same meaning which one of the spelling was taken.
Regarding the environmental approaches in male Bengali proper names some cases such as Byford (lives at the river crossing), Bhagirat (a king who brought river Ganga to earth), Biyom (who lives in the sky), Mainak (son of Himalaya), Nirad (given by water) were observed but their frequency was less than the environmental elements.

According to the table (2), a total number of 182 Bengali female personal names were categorized based on eleven environmental elements.

Regarding the environmental approaches in female Bengali proper names some cases such as Ekaparana (wife of Himalaya,), Enakshi (whose eyes look like deer), were observed but their frequency was less than the environmental elements. In some female names, there were two types of spelling Najma/Nazma (star) and Kumudini /Qumandini (Lotus) which one of the spelling was considered.

Diagram (1) indicates the frequency of environmental elements in Bengali's names. According to this diagram, only 21.27% of male Bengali personal names and 20.26% of female Bengali personal names are based on the environmental elements.In the case of Bengali male names, almost all of the environmental elements have high frequency except sea (4.21%) and flower (6.84) categories which their frequencies are significantly high in Bengali female names.

5. Conclusion

The present study analyzed and categorized Bengali personal names based on environmental elements. According to the tables (1) and (2) the first hypothesis,regarding the trace of environmental elements in Bengali personal names, was approved.

The second hypothesis was also approved due to female names such as Chandravathi (lightened by the moon), Hamsini (who rides a swan) and male names such asChidambar (One whose heart is as big as the sky),Dhilan (Son of the waves), Gajbahu (who has strength of an elephant),Goswamee (master of cows), Vyomang (part of the sky)andVan-Raj (ruler of the forest).

Based on the diagram (1), the third hypothesis was partially rejected. Since the total frequency of male names in elements such as the sun (22.62%) and moon (18.64%) was more than that of in female names. On the other hand, the frequency of flower element in the Bengali female name (36.81%)was higher than other environmental elements that the reason can be sought in the background of Bengali culture. According to Ainiala, Saarelma, and Sjöblom (2012:137), anthroponyimc systems can also change when two different naming systems are compared. Thus, the frequency of environmental elements such as sun and moon can be high in other languages and can be defined based on their cultural background and even gender systems of language.Another interesting finding of this study was that the frequency of solid elements such as earth, rock, and the mountain was higher in male names than the female which indicates the delicate and vulnerable nature of the female.

Works Cited

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Agyekum, K. (2006). The Sociolinguistic of Akan Personal Names. Nordic Journal of African Studies 15(2): 206–235

Anyachebelu, A. (2015). Patterns of Igbo Spousal Names. Ihafa: A Journal of African Studies 7: 1

Couto, H. H. (2015). Ecosystemic Linguistics I. Retrieved on 15 April 2020 from

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Ogie, O. (2002). Edo personal names and world view. In Ohioma I. Pogosan and Francis O. Egbokhare. (Eds.), New perspectives in Edoid studies: Essays in honour of Ronald Peter Schaefer. Cape Town RSA: Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society, Book Series no.20.

Rosenhouse, J. (2002). Personal names in Hebrew and Arabic: Modern trends compare to the past. Journal of Semetic Studies, XLVII (1), 97-114.

Stibbe,A. (2014). An Ecolinguistic Approach to Critical Discourse Studies. Critical Discourse Studies.11:1, 117-128, DOI: 10.1080/17405904.2013.845789

Wheeler, S. L. (2018). Autoethnographic onomastics: Transdisciplinary scholarship of personal names and ‘our-stories’.Methodological Innovations.Volume: 11 issue: 1.