Singh /ˈsɪŋ/ is a title, middle name or surname, which originated in India. Derived from the Sanskrit word for lion, it was adopted as a title by certain warrior castes in India.[1] It was later adopted by several castes and communities, including the Sikhs, whose Guru Gobind Singh mandated it for all the baptized males. As a surname or a middle name, it is now found throughout the Indian subcontinent and among the Indian diaspora, cutting across communities and religious groups.[2]

Etymology and variations

Rajput ruler Sangram Singh (1484-1527)
Creation of the Khalsa by Sikh Guru Gobind Singh, 1699
Maratha ruler Pratap Singh of Thanjavur (ruled 1739-1763)
Yogendra Singh Yadav, an Indian Soldier Awarded Param Vir Chakra for his bravery in the Kargil War

The word "Singh" is derived from the Sanskrit word for lion (सिंह siṃha).[3] Several variants of the word are found in other languages:


Originally, the Sanskrit word for lion, variously transliterated as Simha or Singh was used as a title by Kshatriya warriors in northern parts of India. The earliest recorded examples of the names ending with "Simha" are the names of the two sons of the Saka ruler Rudraraman in the second century CE. The first ruler of the Chalukya clan bore the title Simha ruled around 500 CE. The Vengi branch of the Chalukyas continued using Simha as the last name till the eleventh century. The Rajputs started using Singh in preference to the classical epithet of "Varman". Among the Rajputs, the use of the word Simha came into vogue among the Paramaras of Malwa in 10th century CE, among the Guhilots and the Kachwahas of Narwar in the 12th century CE, and the Rathores of Marwar after the 17th century.[5]

By the sixteenth century, "Singh" had become a popular surname among Rajputs.[6] It was adopted by the Sikhs in 1699, as per the instructions of Guru Gobind Singh. Singh is used by all baptized male Sikhs, regardless of their geographical or cultural binding; the females use Kaur.[7][8]

In the 18th century, several groups started using the title Singh. These included the Brahmins, the Kayasthas and the Baniyas of what are now Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In the 19th century, even the Bengal court peons of the lower castes adopted the title Singh.[5] Bhumihars, who originally used Brahmin surnames, also started affixing Singh to their names.[9] In Bihar and Jharkhand, the surname came to associated with power and authority, and was adopted by people of multiple castes, including Brahmin zamindars.[10] Ahir (Yadavs) also characterized themselves as Kshatriya, and used 'Singh' as part of their name.[11]

People belonging to several other castes and communities have also used Singh as a title, middle name or a surname; these include non-Sikh Punjabis, Gujjars (e.g. Nirbhay Singh Gujjar), Marathas (e.g. Pratap Singh Rao Gaekwad) and Hindu Jats (e.g. Bhim Singh Rana) The surname 'Singh' is used by many caste groups in Bihar.[12] The name is also found among the Indian diaspora. For example, taking advantage of the fact that there was no reliable way to ascertain a person's caste, many of the low-caste Indian indentured labourers brought to British Guiana adopted the surname "Singh", claiming to be high-caste Kshatriyas.[13]


Singh is generally used as a surname (e.g. Manmohan Singh) or as a middle name/title (e.g. Mahendra Singh Dhoni). When used as a middle name, it is generally followed by the caste, clan or family name.[14] To avoid being identified by their castes or clans, several Sikhs append "Khalsa" to Singh (e.g. Harinder Singh Khalsa). Some Sikhs add the names of their native villages instead (e.g. Harcharan Singh Longowal, after Longowal).[15]

Originally, a common practice among the Rajput men was to have Singh as their last name, while Rajput women had the last name "Kumari". However, now, many Rajput women have Singh in their name as well.[16]

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. For a decade, the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi stated in letters to its Sikh clients that "the names Kaur and Singh do not qualify for the purpose of immigration to Canada", requiring people with these surnames to adopt new ones. The ban was denounced by the Sikh community, after which the Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced it was dropping the policy, calling the whole issue a misunderstanding based on a "poorly worded" letter.[17]

See also


  1. Angus Stevenson; Maurice Waite (2011). Concise Oxford English Dictionary: Book & CD-ROM Set. OUP Oxford. p. 1346. ISBN 9780199601103.
  2. Kumar Suresh Singh (1996). Communities, segments, synonyms, surnames and titles. Anthropological Survey of India. p. 32. ISBN 9780195633573. Going by the usage, Singh is more a title than a surname, cutting across communities and religious groups.
  3. Feuerstein, Georg (2002) [1998]. The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice. Motilal Banarsidass/Hohm. p. 444. ISBN 81-208-1923-3. OCLC 39013819.
  4. Vanita, Ruth (2005). Gandhi's tiger and Sita's smile: essays on gender, sexuality and culture. New Delhi: Yoda Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-81-902272-5-4. OCLC 70008421.
  5. 1 2 Qanungo, Kalika Ranjan (1960). Studies in Rajput History. Delhi: S. Chand. pp. 138–140. OCLC 1326190.
  6. Prakash Chander (1 January 2003). India: Past & Present. APH Publishing. p. 120. ISBN 978-81-7648-455-8. Retrieved 11 January 2013. In those days, "Singh" as a surname was very popular among a famous warrior caste of north India, the Rajputs. Some of the first Sikhs were also Rajputs.
  7. A History of the Sikh People (1469-1988) by Dr. Gopal Singh ISBN 81-7023-139-6
  8. Catherine B. Asher; Cynthia Talbot (2006). India Before Europe. Cambridge University Press. p. 269. ISBN 9780521809047.
  9. Virendra Prakash Singh (1992). Community And Caste In Tradition. Commonwealth. p. 113.
  10. Pranava K Chaudhary (2009-02-21). "Using surnames to conceal identity". The Times of India. Retrieved 2013-01-18.
  11. Bhavan's Journal, Volume 12, Issues 1-16. 1965. p. 123.
  12. Singh, Santosh (2015). Ruled or Misruled: Story and Destiny of Bihar. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9789385436420. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  13. Raymond Thomas Smith (1996). The matrifocal family: power, pluralism, and politics. Routledge. p. 118. ISBN 0-415-91214-8. ISBN 978-0-415-91214-3.
  14. Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, Volume I
  15. B. V. Bhanu Contributors Kumar Suresh Singh, B. V. Mehta, Anthropological Survey of India (2004). People of India: Maharashtra, Part 3. Popular Prakashan,. p. 1846. ISBN 9788179911020.
  16. 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 81-7033-273-7
  17. San Grewal (2007-07-26). "'Singh' ban denounced". Toronto Star.
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