Sunday, April 6, 2014

Ten Buddhism Inspired Names - from Anicca to Zen

Photo courtesy of Beloved Photography

In recent months I have covered a couple of names with connections to Buddhism. The first - Avici (adapted to Avicii) - was adopted as a stage name for a young Swedish DJ whose star is currently on the rise. The second was Bodhi, a rising, relatively well-known option that was recently bestowed on two celebrity babies.

This got me thinking about names with Buddhist connections. In times when some are attracted to bold, energetic names like Dash and Blaze; or weaponry associated names like Colt and Cannon, it makes sense that others would be drawn to names with peaceful, spiritual meanings and connections.

Such names can create a great first impression. If balanced against feeling a little too “new agey” or “hippie” (sorry Dharma and Karma), they can set other people at ease, making their wearer seem friendly, relaxed and approachable. Less overt than traditional virtue names, they still hint at an attitude that the wearer can aspire to.

I need to preface this list by saying that I am not (and have never been) a Buddhist, so my knowledge of Buddhist terms that would make for great names is by no means exhaustive. However, I've chosen ten in particular that feel very usable - other than Bodhi and Avici. I'd love to hear further suggestions in the comments below.

Anicca is a term meaning 'inconstancy' or 'impermanence', referring to the Buddhist teaching that all things are in a constant state of change – an inevitable cycle of birth, growth, decay and death. Pronounced uh-NIK-uh, visually and verbally Anicca doesn't seem very far removed from names such as Anita or Annika, which makes it feel quite usable, particularly for a girl.

Most people would recognise Arya as the name of the young rebellious tomboy daughter of the Stark family in 'Game of Thrones'. The show has certainly boosted its popularity as a girls name. But Arya actually has a history as a name used by both genders, and skewed male in the U.S until 2010. Arya (or Ariya) means 'noble' or 'exalted' in Sanskrit, and is frequently used in Buddhism to describe some of the main tenets – mainly the Four Noble Truths (catvary arya satyani) or The Noble Eightfold Path (arya marga).

Kathina is a Buddhist festival that is held at the end of Vassa, the three month rainy season retreat for Theraveda Buddhists. It is a time of giving, for people to express their thanks to monks by bringing donations – particularly new robes - to the temples. It is rarely used as a name, but is seen as a girls name. It feels like an exotic blend of Katrina and Katherine and would make for a spiritual, celebratory name.

The lotus is an important Buddhist icon, as Buddha is typically depicted sitting on a lotus. It is symbolic of the path from ignorance to enlightenment, as it rises from the mud of materialism, through the waters of experience, and into the sunshine of enlightenment. Pronounced LOH-tuhs, as a flower name it is definitely one of the more exotic and rarer choices. It is also a luxury sports car brand, which seems quite at odds with it's Buddhist symbolism. But that does little to detract from the elegant beauty of this name.

Lyrical sounding, it's pronounced mah-huh-YAH-nuh and is one of the main branches of Buddhism. It comes from the Sanskrit words maha meaning 'great' and yana meaning 'vehicle'. Mahayana is a more liberal type of Buddhism, and the most popular. Followers believe that anyone - not just monks and nuns - can attain enlightenment. It has never charted in the U.S as a name, but Mahayana would be a very pretty choice for a girl.

Nirvana literally means 'blown out', as in a candle, which when applied to a Buddhist context refers to “the imperturbable stillness of mind after the fires of desire, aversion and delusion have been finally extinguished”. Buddhists aim to reach this state of mind or consciousness to be free of individual desires or suffering. The name was chosen by Kurt Cobain for his rock/grunge band, who said that he wanted a beautiful, nice and pretty name. It seems namers agree with this impression, as Nirvana has only ever been bestowed on girls in the U.S. If Haven, Elysia or Nevaeh are on your list, this is another worthy option to consider.

Perhaps due to it's short length, Om has to date been used as a boys name in the U.S. Om is sometimes referred to as the sacred syllable, used as a mantra when meditating. It means 'creation' in Sanskrit, and as a representation of the three most important deities in Hindu religions – Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma – it ultimately refers to the essence of life. It may be short, but it is loaded with meaning and has a relaxing sound.

You may recognise Samsara as the title of a visually poetic 2011 Documentary. It means 'continuous movement' or 'cyclic existence', often translated as 'the circle of life'. By following the Buddhist path, one can liberate themselves from the endless cycling through the six realms, but one must first understand the nature of Samsara in order to be liberated from it. Samsara has a lovely, liquid velvet feel to it, pronounced suhm-SAHR-uh. It's rare use has so far been for girls, which may have been influenced by the fact that it is also the name of a perfume by Guerlain. Familiar nicknames Sam or Sara and it's similarity to Samara makes it easier to wear.

The Vedas are the most ancient and important of Hindu sacred literature, believed to be an eternal revelation of divine origin. Veda (pronounced VEY-duh or VEE-duh) means 'knowledge' or 'wisdom' – Theravada is the oldest surviving branch of Buddhism, meaning 'the Teaching of the Elders'. Veda has a long history of use as a girls name in the U.S, particularly popular at the beginning of the 20th century accompanied by Vida and Vera. It has a vintage feel and spiritual quality.

Zen is synonymous with calmness and tranquillity. Many people most immediately associate it with Buddhism. Meaning 'absorption' or 'meditative state', Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that advocates the use of sitting meditation for realising Buddhist truths such as no-self, emptiness, and the uncreated mind. Zen has been getting some small use in the U.S in recent decades and is so far proving to be more popular for boys than girls. This name has a fantastic energy – it feels unexpected, yet cool and stylish.


  1. Wow these are all great choices! I've actually seen most of them on real life babies, and Anicca and Samsara are good suggestions.

  2. Although having a unique name is nice in theory it's alot different in real life, My name is Zen, And my whole life I have been bullied, Embarrassed and ridiculed about my name. I'm now 20 years old and still to this day have people tease me about my name. The reason for my name is touching but before you go naming your children have a lonnnnnng think about it. Noone should have to grow up feeling like I did.

    1. I'm sorry your name has caused you so many problems.

    2. I am sorry people around you have chosen to give you trouble for having the best name among them all! I find Zen a very beautiful, meaningful name and I am sure you are a beautiful intelligent being. Some people who aren't smart or sensitive or sensible enough to understand your name and its significance may choose to bully or tease you because of their small minds. But you're a grown up person now, don't let people bully you instead laugh with them and then say, I know it's not for everyone to have the understanding or significance of my name, you aren't the first one and dismiss them as childish, silly people. You have a better name and a better life than all of them... trust me, God bless you and give you strength!

    3. My sons name is name is Zen and everyone thinks it is so cool and he is ultra popular. He did want to change at times Ben10 but now he likes his name. He hates writing so Zen is the best for least writing. Remember people can always find a way to tease...but Zen is just cool and smart in his actions.

    4. What was reason that you where called Zen? Besides before you where 18 you where Master Zen. Your name is very powerful and your power also comes from within so don't let a what...before 18 Master Don or Joe...just say thank you. You where Master what Don/Bob/Joe before 18 and I was what Master Zen meaning...

  3. Don't feel too bad... I'm named after an instrument. My name is Guitar. I used to be teased and now I'm complimented on it. Some people think it's dope, others don't. I'm 22 (: and idc what people think of it! I personally don't enjoy it but I always know when I'm being talked to. LOL. No other Guitars around! I commonly get referred to as mister before being met... I'm a miss. You'll grow into it, just accept it and you'll learn to love it!

    1. You can always reply you like to be the beautiful harmony and creative excitement in the room and yet your able to chill when you need too. That is what parents could feel before you were you born. Julie and Judy just didn't get it.

  4. My daughter is named Samara.
    I dreamed of her name while I was pregnant. In my dream a man handed me a gift and said "Samsara" as if he was greeting me.
    I woke and checked google (as you do) to see if there was such a name. Saw it was a Sanskrit word equating to the circle of life (although it has a bigger deeper significance) and decided that I was gifted with my baby's name, so I named her Samsara.

  5. Hi my name is Zen too and I did not hate It even once and I think Its very cool name and easy to be popular because Its unique, cool, stylish, and easy to recognise.

  6. I chose the name Zen for my son, born 10\30\2015. The name is very meaningful, for lack of a better word, to me. I gave it to him with all my heart, completely abundant with love and admiration for this little being I helped create. I suspect your parents love you with the same abundance and find sacred tranquility in the fact that you are their son. They may be a bit hippy-ish. I myself was a rather old first-time mother, at 34, almost 35. I'm curious to know what they chose for your middle name. My boy has three, all with great meaning and power when used in succession. Someday you will realize how blessed you truly are. My name is Amanda. My last name called me Amanda "leech"'re not alone in the teasing department. People can be cruel, and that is their grief to bear. Not yours.