Do You Know Burmese People Got No Surname?​

Myanmar people have a genuine interest in a person as a person, not out of curiosity but from fellow-feeling. Greeting "Min-ga-lar-bar" to people they meet with a warm smile has been the signature of Myanmar culture. When you visit Myanmar, one of the things you will get surprised is the way they set their names. While nearly the whole world is using first name and last name for their formal name, this small country between India and China got no "surname."



Burmese people do not necessarily hand down family surnames (usually part of father's name) from generation to generation. And, the wives also seldom use the names of their husbands. So, U Sein Tun’s son might be Maung Saw Tin, daughter might be Ma Thiri, while his wife might be called Daw Khin Aye. Note that these words: U, Maung, Ma, and Daw from above names are not part of the name but just the prefixed title.


Burmese titles

In Western, they use Mr, Mrs, Miss to indicate gender and marital status. In Myanmar, you can know one's gender and age from the title but not the marital status. U Thant, the third Secretary-General of the United Nations, was the good example. "U", pronounced as "Oo", is the Mr. for Burmese. So, U Thant means Mr. Thant. "Maung" (pronounced as "Mao") is also Mr. for men but a younger age and "Ko" is for middle-aged men. Similarly, "Daw" is for the lady and "Ma" is for a young woman. However, there are only two titles being used when it comes to the official documents; "U" for men and "Daw" for women, no matter how old they are.

There are some exceptions; not every "Maung" and "Ma" are titles, but every title starts with "Maung" and "Ma". Another exception is men can have a name including the word "U" but if it is used as a name, they will spell with "Oo" instead of "U". For instance, in the name "U Maung Oo", the first and the last syllables have the same pronunciation but spell differently to distinguish which one is the title and which is the name.


Burmese Zodiacs

Myanmar people usually set the name according to the birthday of the week with different Burmese Zodiac: Garuda for Sunday, tiger for Monday, lion for Tuesday, elephant with tusks for Wednesday morning, elephant without tusks for Wednesday afternoon (also called Rahu), rat for Thursday, guinea pig for Friday and dragon for Saturday. Each zodiac has different set of Burmese alphabets assigned for the initial word of their name. And, you can, though not always, guess on which day a person was born by looking at his or her name. For example, Kyaw Kyaw, the name starting with "ka," might be born on Monday since the first 5 Burmese alphabets are for Monday-born.


Although Burmese names are often very confusing to foreigners, but it is quite a knowledge when you learn how this country enjoys being unique in its people names.