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Singh (Punjabi: ਸਿੰਘ, Hindi: सिंह singh, Gujarati: સિંહ sinh) is derived from the Sanskrit word Siṃha meaning "lion"[1]. It is a common title, middle name, or surname in Northern India, first used by Ahir Kings of Nepal and later in the 7th century by the Rajputs of the princely states of Rajputana (present day Rajasthan). In 1699 the name was adopted in Punjab by adherents of the Sikh faith, according to the wishes of Guru Gobind Singh. The surname was later widely adopted by other groups of India like Yadavs and Jats. It is of interest to note that some Brahmins like Bhumihar Brahmins (see Kingdom of Kashi and Royal House of Benares) and Maithil Brahmins (see History of Mithila) also use this name. "Singh" has gradually emerged as a hereditary title [2] to be used as a middle name, highlighting connections to a warrior status or occupation. However, this is not an exclusive usage, and there have been instances in present times when it has been adopted by other Hindu groups without any significant warrior status or ties.



The word "Singh" is derived from the Sanskrit Siṃha meaning lion. Several variants of the word are found in other languages:

  • In Hindi Devanagari script, the name is written as सिंह ("siṅh", IPA: [sɪŋɦə]) and often pronounced as सिघ ("singh", IPA: [sɪŋgʱə]). Other variants include Simha, Sinha, and Singhal[3][4]
  • In Tamil, the word for lion is Singham or Singhe written as சிங்க, also derived from Sanskrit (see Malay words of Tamil origin, and Singapore)
  • In Punjabi (Gurmukhi script), the name is written as ਸਿੰਘ (Singh) and pronounced as Singh
  • In Gujarati, it is spelled as સિંહ (Sinh). Another variant is Sinhji, the form of Singh used in Gujarat, where the 'g' is dropped and the suffix of respect, 'ji' is added
  • In Burmese, it is spelled သီဟ (thiha), derived from the Pali variant siha.
  • Chinese is said to have also derived the word for lion from Buddhist missionaries from India: the word Shizi 狮子.[5] However, other sources state this was borrowed from Elamite [6]
  • In Thailand, Singha, written as Thai: สิงห์ with final syllable marked as silent, refers to a mythical lion; the zodiac sign of Leo; a popular brand of beer, Singha; and is frequently used as a place name (for instance, Ban Singh Tha). Singhakhom Thai: สิงหาคม, in which the /ha/ is pronounced, is the Thai solar calendar month of August. Sing Toe Thai: สิงโต, which omits /ha/ entirely and adds Thai for big or grown up, refers to the lion. All except Toe are of Sanskrit origin
  • A common surname of Bihar, "Sinha" also may have had origins in the word 'Singh"
  • The term Sinhalese referring to natives of Sri Lanka, meaning "lion blood" (Sinha = lion, le = blood) may also be construed as having origin in the word 'Singh'. The Sinhalese people are said to be descended from Prince Vijaya (a king who is fabled to have descended from a lion)


Singh was first used as a surname by Ahir kings of Nepal and later by the Rajputs beginning in the 7th century[7]. It has been common practice among the Rajput men to have Singh as their middle name.[8] The Rajputs started using Singh in preference to the classical epithet of "Varman".[9]

The adherents of Sikh faith adopted Singh as a surname in 1699, as per the wish of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru.[10] In the Spring of 1699, on the day of Baisakhi, Guru Gobind Singh (originally named Guru Gobind Rai), made it mandatory for all Sikh males to append the name suffix Singh after their name and "Kaur" for Women.

Apart from the Rajputs and the Sikhs, several other groups in India have also adopted Singh as either a middle name or a surname. Some others include the Yadavs (e.g. "Mulayam Singh Yadav"), Bhumiyar Brahmins, the Gujjars (e.g. "Kuldip Singh Chandpuri"), and the Hindu Jats (e.g. "Chaudhary Charan Singh and Maharaja Bhim Singh Rana").

The last name "Singh" is in fact used by a wider population from Punjab to Uttar Pradesh and from Kashmir down into Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharastra to Uttarakhand as well as the far eastern states of Manipur, Assam, Tripura, Sikkim, and even Bhutan, spanning the entire subcontinent and even reaching Southeast Asia. It is also found in use among West Indians of Indian origin namely in places of Guyana, Trinidad, and Surinam, as well as people of Indian origin found in Mauritius and Fiji Island.

Naming patterns

Singh is often used the traditional way, as previously described, by having it as the middle name after the first name and followed by the clan/family name by many communities, groups & peoples.[11] For example, "Yogendra Singh Yadav", "Bhupinder Singh Hooda", "Mahendra Singh Dhoni", and "Bhairon Singh Shekhawat"). Sikh examples include, "Jassa Singh Ahluwalia", "Jassa Singh Ramgarhia" & "Hari Singh Nalwa" . Thus Singh can be used as a middle name before the individual's surname (last name), a common practice among many groups in India e.g. Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (Pattern, 1: First Name, 2: Singh, 3: Family lineage name). Many adherents of Sikh faith across the World, some of which may come from many other races, countries, cultures and groups also use the name "Singh" as a middle name with last name as "Khalsa" e.g. "Avtar Singh Khalsa" (Pattern, 1: First Name, 2: Singh, 3: Belonging to Khalsa Spiritual Family). Another practise among Sikhs is to use village/town/city/country lineage after middle name Singh to avoid using the caste lineage e.g. "Parkash Singh Badal" (Pattern, 1: First Name, 2: Singh, 3: Village/Town/country lineage). Singh is also used as a surname (last name) (for example, "Manmohan Singh", "Vijay Singh", and "Upkar Singh").

Earlier, a common practice among the Rajput men was to have Singh as their last name, while Rajput women had the last name of Kumari(Princess) which is derive from "Kanwar"(Prince). However, many Rajput women have Singh in their name as well.[12] Several times during history due to various reasons Rajputs have migrated out of Rajputana their native region; many of those that settled in other parts of India have since come to use Singh as their last name even though they belong to separate Rajput gotras and clans, this happened over several generations due to the local population preferring to popularly calling them just Singh in the new places they settled outside Rajputana, this was usually enough to denote that they belonged to the Kshatriya varna and were Hindu Rajput warriors by caste.[13]

Immigration issues: Common surname

A section of around a million adherents of Sikhism that live abroad in Western countries only keep Singh or Kaur as their last name. This has caused legal problems in immigration procedures especially in Canada with Canadian High Commission in New Delhi, India for a decade stating in letters to its Sikh clients "the names Kaur and Singh do not qualify for the purpose of immigration to Canada" people with these common Sikh surnames have to change their last names before coming to Canada.

See also


  1. ^ Feuerstein, Georg (2002) [1998]. The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice. Motilal Banarsidass/Hohm. p. 444. ISBN 8120819233. OCLC 39013819. 
  2. ^ The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English 2008 defines Singh as: "Singh / sing/ • n. a title or surname adopted by certain warrior castes of northern India, esp. by male members of the Sikh Khalsa". From the Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English 2008, originally published by Oxford University Press 2008 Singh; Also see: Oxford University Press, India
  3. ^ Dahiya, Bhim Singh (1980). Jats, the Ancient Rulers: A Clan Study. New Delhi: Sterling. p. 5. OCLC 7086749. 
  4. ^ Vanita, Ruth (2005). Gandhi's Tiger and Sita's Smile: Essays on Gender, Sexuality and Culture. New Delhi: Yoda Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-8190227254. OCLC 70008421. 
  5. ^ The Wisdom of China and India - By Lin Yutang ISBN 0394607597
  6. ^ Miao
  7. ^ History of the Rise of the Mahomedan Power in India - 4 Vols. ; Till the Year A.D. 1612 by Mahomed Kasim Ferishta ISBN 8170691222
  8. ^ Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan by Col. James Tod ISBN 8175361883 ISBN 978-8175361881
  9. ^ Qanungo, Kalika Ranjan (1960). Studies in Rajput History. Delhi: S. Chand. p. 99. OCLC 1326190. 
  10. ^ A History of the Sikh People (1469-1988) by Dr. Gopal Singh Isbn: 8170231396
  11. ^ Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, Volume I
  12. ^ Kolff, Dirk H.A., The Rajput of Ancient and Medieval North India: A Warrior-Ascetic; Folk, Faith and Feudalism, Edited by NK Singh and Rajendra Joshi, Institute of Rajasthan Studies, Jaipur, India. Rawat Publications, Jaipur and New Delhi. isbn 81-7033-273-8
  13. ^ Joshi, Rajendra, Feudal Bonds; Folk, Faith and Feudalism, Edited by NK Singh and Rajendra Joshi, Institute of Rajasthan Studies, Jaipur, India. Rawat Publications, Jaipur and New Delhi. ISBN 81-7033-273-8


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Sanskrit tiger

Proper noun




  1. A Sikh surname.
  2. A male given name used by Sikhs, often but not necessarily a middle name.
  3. A surname common among the Rajput clan from Rajasthan, India
  4. A surname common among the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in India


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