When I first moved to Mongolia, one of the things that initially caught my attention was Mongolian names and how exotic they sounded. Mongolian names are unlike any names I had heard before, so it was literally like learning a new vocabulary in a foreign language. In the beginning, trying to remember the names of every person I met was very frustrating because I would forget them very easily.

In this post, I will show you how Mongolian names work. That will include both first names, which are chosen, and last names and clan names, which are inherited. You will understand their cultural ties, their structure and how family and surnames pass along the family line. There are also plenty of examples if you are curious or are looking for super cool names for your future baby.

Mongolian first names

Let´s start off with first names. Learning about Mongolian names is fascinating, not only because of the superstition factor that involves the process of picking a suitable name but also because Mongolian names reflect the evolution of their history and culture. You can see religion, symbolism, social changes, structure and late globalization imprinted into the names of the Mongolian people.

Methods for choosing baby names in Mongolia

Traditionally, first names are given to babies once they are born and not before. There are two main ways to name a Mongolian baby: either parents will pick their name or they will have a lama in a Buddhist Monastery decide. In any case, naming a baby is a big deal because Mongolian names are perceived as good fortune. That is why most parents will choose a name that they think will have a positive impact on their children. However, some parents just pick a name that has more personal meaning or that they just like.

Here are different types of names according to their meanings and origin.


Nature-related Mongolian names

Mongolian countryside

Religious origins of Tengrism in Mongolia, a form of Shamanism in Central Asia, are evident in the use of nature-related names. Tengrism worships the Munkh Khukh Tenger, the Eternal Blue Sky, and other demigods that represent different forms of nature. Therefore it is very common to name children after gemstones, natural phenomena, animals and even colours. Some examples are:

namemeaning commonly used for
NominLazuritefemale
Solongorainbowfemale
Arslanlionmale
Odstarmale
Tuulname of riverfemale

Positive qualities in Mongolian names

Progenitors always want the best for their children, so parents often pick names to influence their children’s future traits.

For example, they may use names that symbolise strength, beauty, happiness or prosperity.

These types of names are mostly seen in compound names, usually formed by an adjective and noun (but you can also find other compound nouns with other types of words). Some common adjectives used are: munkh, which means eternal and symbolizes a long life, Bayar or Jargal which both mean happiness.

namemeaningcommonly used for
Munkhtsetsegeternal flowerfemale
Munkhodeternal starmale
GanbayarSteel happinessmale
Ishtumuriron handlemale
Chimegornament/charmunisex
Misheelsmileunisex

.

Bad-luck-repelling names

Monument of the kid riding a horse

There are some names that literally mean that the child has no name. This usually happens when parents have previously lost a child. The superstition says that by avoiding giving their newborn a proper name they avoid bad spirits to come and take their newborn.

namemeaningcommonly used for
Terbishnot that oneunisex
Nerguiwithout a nameunisex
Enebishnot this oneunisex
Khunbishnot a personunisex
MedekhguiI don’t knowunisex

Tibetan names

Tibetan names reflect Mongolian ties to Tibetan Buddhism, which first appeared in the region around the 12th century. It lost importance for some centuries and it made a come back in the 16th century along with its influence on Mongolian names. By the beginning of the 20th century, Buddhism was at its peak in the country hence the popularity of Tibetan names at that time. After the USSR gained control over Mongolia and the Stalinist repressions in Mongolia against religion had started, the usage of religious names decreased, too.

In the Mongolian language, the days of the week also have a Tibetan version and they are used to name some babies, especially if they are born on that particular day. From Monday to Sunday, the names of the week in Tibetan are Davaa, Myagmar, Klagva, Purev, Baasan, Byamba and Nyam. It is also very common to find compound names with a day of the week and another Mongolian or Tibetan word. Less common, but still there are Tibetan names related to Buddhist deities, symbols and positive qualities, especially those appropriate for a future monk.

namemeaningcommonly used for
Dorjdiamondmale
Surenamuletunisex
Dulamfemale
Purevsurenthursday amuletunisex
Nyam ErdeneSunday treasureunisex

Mongolian Historical names

Chinggis Khan’s statue in the outskirts of Ulan Bator. Chinggis is an honorable name to have in Mongolia, since the Mongolian ruler is highly regarded.

Mongolian Historical names became very popular after the Mongolian Democratic Revolution in 1990. This, in my opinion, was a way to connect with the roots of the Mongolian nation. Mongolians were systematically stripped off their culture and identity during the influence of the USSR from 1921 to 1990. Everything that didn’t align with Soviet ideas was removed or swapped for a more suitable activity. That went from the abolition of religion to the loss of nomadic economic activities.

nameWho they were
ChinggisGreat Mongol leader (aka Ghengis Khan for us westerners)
TemuujinBirth name of Ghengis Khan
YesugeiBest friend of Ghengis Khan and
BurteFirst wife of Ghengis Khan
AnuQueen warrior of the 17th century
AyukKhan from Kalmykia in the 16th hundreds

Foreign names in Mongolia

Statue of Lenin located in the gardens of one Hotel in Terelj. Lenin was a popular name when Mongolia was a USSR satellite state.

Names of Sanskrit, Russian and now even English origin can be heard. This depicts the relations that the Mongolian nation has had with other countries in the past and in the present.

Sanskrit names came to Mongolia through Buddhism, which originated in India.

As mentioned above, Mongolia was heavily influenced by the USSR for little less than 70 years. During that period, Russian names became very popular.

Today, I am told that upper class Mongolians like to use English sounding names for their children. My guess would be that, as English is the current language to communicate internationally (sorry, Esperanto) and easier for our globalised world.

nameorigin
OktyabriRussian
GagarinRussian
MichelleEnglish
AdiyaSanskrit
AnandIndian

Other aspects of Mongolian first names

Gender identification in Mongolian names

You may have noticed the following endings in some of the above examples: Tsetseg, Baatar, Erdene, Tuya… Some of these endings will automatically tell you whether the person is male or female. Tsetseg means flower and it is an ending reserved for women, whereas Baatar, which means warrior, is reserved for men. Other endings are gender-neutral, like Jargal, and they are used by both males and females.
There are also suffixes that traditionally are male or female and have been added to Mongolian names. Some examples are -maa, which means mother in Tibetan, or -jin.

Mongolian short names

Most Mongolians with a rather long name, for example compound names, use a shorter version. This is usually done by picking one of the words that make up their name and then adding a vowel at the end. For example, Muugii can be shared by people named Munkhtsetseg, Munkhtuya or Munkhbaatar. That is why some males and females share the same short name.

Mongolian surnames or last names

Surnames were not a thing in Mongolia until the Russians came around. Mongolian surnames follow a patrilineal heritage, meaning it is inherited from the father, but in a very different fashion as us, westerners, are used to. They are formed following the Russian patronymic style, using their own father’s first name as a surname (although in Russia the father’s name will become a middle name). Because of this system, Mongolian surnames only last one generation.

The spouse does not take her husband’s last name upon marriage, either. Only siblings will share their father’s name as a surname.

Mongolian family names or clan names

Family or clan names are called ovog. They weren’t really part of Mongolians’ legal names until recently, but they had been previously used in during the middle ages. They are considered to be the proper lineage name as opposed to surnames. In the mid-90s the recent democratic government made it compulsory for families to have a clan name. This clan name had to be a representation of family origin and it could either be a tribal name or a location.

A friend of mine recalls how her family gathered after Tsaagan Sar to talk about what their family name would be. Eventually, her grandfather decided their name would be Lamiin Gegeenten, due to family roots connected to a Buddhist monastery in their home province.

Like most people I have asked, I have failed to understand the importance of having your family name as part of your legal name in the ID card. I can only wonder if, after such a long time under Russian government control, and previous to that,  Chinese control, Mongolians felt the need to reassure themselves as an independent nation who must not forget where they come from. But this is just a guess, of course.

Mongolian clan names follow a patrilineage pattern identical to surnames in Western societies. The father’s clan name will be given to the offspring, while the mother’s family name will be lost in her lineage.

As a curious note, it’s worth mentioning that the most popular family name in Mongolia is Borjigon, surpassing the second most used name, Sartuul, by more than 17 times! Why such popularity? A hint: Borjigon was Chinggis Khaan’s clan. 😉

List of the most famous Mongolian names (clan or family names))

Mongolian name structure

After explaining about Mongolian full names you probably feel confused. Let’s take my friend’s family as an example. Her nickname is Schaguna, which is the short form of Altainshagai (Golden Ankle). Her surname is Tamir, which is her father’s name. So her full name is Altanshagai Tamir, but in Mongolian, the surname goes first, so it technically is written like Tamir Altanshagai or T. Altanshagai.

In Mongolian family units, parents often pick a word or theme that their children will share. So, my friend’s brother, younger than her, is named T. Mungunshagai, which translates into Silver Ankle.

Schaguna’s clan name is Khoshuu Beis, which comes from his dad’s clan name and which she shares with her brother and all male family members on his father’s side. So, her official name would be written like this: Khoshuu beis Tamir Altanshagai, or Khoshuu Tamriin Altanshagai. In this case, Tamriin means “of Tamir”.

If you are interested in Mongolian culture, you will love to learn about Mongolian names. In this post, you will learn about symbolism, how naming trends are linked to Mongolian history and social changes and their interesting naming system. There are also plenty of Mongolian names set as examples. #mongolia #mongolianculture #mongoliannames
Mongolian names and their meanings

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5 Comments

  1. This was a really interesting and well researched article, I learnt a lot about Mongolian names. I especially like the the name Solongo. I always think of rainbows when I hear this, such a happy name 🙂

  2. This is a really interesting post. I was especially intrigued by the “child has no name” name, to ward off bad spirits after losing a previous child.

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