A Tale of names in Mongolia - Horseback Mongolia
A Tale of names in Mongolia

A Tale of names in Mongolia

Apr 12 2016
Mongolia is a great country with a long history of traditions and culture. Names are intimately part of it, and choosing one for a child is in fact not an easy task. Why is that? What are the interesting facts about given names in Mongolia? What is trendy and not, or even funny?  

Into choosing a name in Mongolia

  In the old days, the parents themselves, a very respected member of the family or even a religious person could give a name to a child. A name brings fortune to the concerned person, so it has to be chosen very wisely. Old Mongolian names (manly names for boys and beauty related for girls) were common in the past, and reintroduced into the modern times using 2 meaningful nouns or adjectives together. During the communist period and with a close relationship with the Soviet Union, Mongolian people gave Russian trendy names for their children. Today you can choose over 40.000 names in Mongolia... you cannot say you don't have a choice! First of all, you just gave birth to a beautiful child of yours, either a boy or a girl or even both if you are lucky enough, and now it is time to find him/her a proper name. Then comes the “нэр өгөх ёс" ceremony that will be an absolute necessity for the newborn. In the early days of the child, relatives will gather and prepare some meals, desserts, and refreshments (alcohol is also authorized, but in small quantity). This event is prepared under the influence of the lunar calendar, at the best possible date consulted sometimes with the help of a lama. The tradition says that the ceremony or gathering can be held until sunset. Typically the father of new baby will give the Khadag (this beautiful and colorful silk scarf) to elders and ask them to consider the future name, depending on different factors like the child's birth year, the month, the planet and the symbol associated to the exact time of the birth. Recently, a form of a lottery can also take place to help choosing a name: people will write different names on a piece of paper and put in a cup or a bowl and someone of trust will ensure to take the one from the recipient. Afterwards, the father will have to whisper the name at the right ear if the baby boy, or the left ear for a girl. Sometimes the baby can have a pleasant reaction to this, or not. Somehow people in history tend to follow an old Mongolian saying :  "Our ancestor teaches us that people can't refuse a given name, but names can refuse people".  

What's popular today...

  Given that, Mongolia is incorporating a more modern approach to names, and some are more trendy than others. Here are the most chosen names today – the top 10 if I may say in the country, along with some famous people in Mongolia that helped to develop this trend:
  1. "Bat-erdene" - Strong jewel for a man, Bat-erdene gain popularity after the performance of one of the most popular wrestler in Mongolia. Badmaanyambuugiin Bat-Erdene actually won 11 national level tournaments in the Naadam, between 1988-1999. Retired from wrestling since 2006, his reputation propelled him to the highest ranks of the State of Mongolia, with a career in politics. He founded his own university of wrestler champions.
  2. "Otgonbayr" - Youngest joy. In the 90ies, the Mongolian music industry saw a very talented person named Dambyn Otgonbayar, a singer and a guitarist. Still today, many Mongolians and even the younger generations enjoy his songs (He is one of the most prolific singer in Mongolia with over than 50 songs created).
  3. "Altantsetseg" - Golden flower for a woman. A beautiful name that is chosen from a beautiful voice in Mongolia, in fact one of the 5 "divas" of the country.
  4. "Oyunchimeg" - Wisdom ornament. A rather elaborated name, which is held by a current Member of the National Commission of Human Rights, a Lawyer by profession. She is a highly respected person in Mongolia.
  5. "Batbayr" - strong joy. Jowel of the Mongolian nation also, a famous sumo is named Batbayr. He is in fact the first Mongolian person to have reached the sumo competition highest rank division named "Makuuchi". After he retired of the competition in 2008, he became the chief of one of Ulan Bator's distict: Songino-Khairhan.
  6. "Bolormaa" - crystal mother. Beautiful as a crystal and pride of Mongolia, Bolormaa is well known top model in Asia and also the president of “New model” and ”Mongolian model” agencies. In 1990, Bolormaa started her career as a model following the advice of her mother.
  7. "Enhtuya" - ray of peace. Enhtuya became a popular name, after a great writer of poetry. The poem “Охин үрээ хайрла” (Oxin uree xairla) or "love your daughter" made Enkhtuya famous accross the country.
  8. "Lhagvasuren" - This name is intimately related to the Tibetan name “Suren” (meaning Charm), and Sakhiul (guard), creating a powerful name to protect its owner forever.
  9. "Gantulga" - steel hearth. Gantulga is held by one famous singer and guitarist in Mongolia. His music is very emotional and very touching.  His melody tends to make people cry!
  10. "Erdenechimeg" - jewel ornament. One Erdenechimeg is a member of the State. This woman is a politician, member of the State Great Khural, the Mongolian Parliament.

...or rather unusual?

  Mongolian names can be very creative, and sometimes people are required to have great skills to pronounce them. An example here with the longest name you can find in Mongolia:

"Агваанлувсанчойжиннямданзанванчигбалсамбуу" to pronounce "Agvaanluvsanchoijinnyamdanzanvanchigbalsambuu"! This is the longest name of all in Mongolia. It corresponds to the 8th Bogdo Jebtsundamba, the spiritual leader of Tibetan buddhism in Mongolia. This personality is linked to the history of Mongolia at the time of its revolution against the Qing Dynasty of the Manchus, as he became the Bogd Khan (Mongolia's religious ruler) of a theocracy. Very powerful and respected, he was the third most important person of all Tibetan Buddhism hierarchy, just under Dalai Lama and Panchen Lamas.

In order to help those confused there, let’s make something simple: Mongolian people have also very short names too! For example 3 very short names can be found nowadays:
  1. Од – Od : Star
  2. Оч – Och : Spark
  3. Аз – Az : Luck
Easier to remember, isn’t it?  :) Although complicated, the names should reflect of the personality of the child, and the will of the parents to bring their best to the world. Sometimes however, the situation is a little bit different... In Mongolia, the names are chosen carefully for the children, with a lot of thoughts. A lot of names however are considered as a transition, depending on the situation of the family or the relatives. For example, in case of a couple who experienced miscarriages, or other related sufferings, some parents, to avoid another great deal of pain prefer to name their son or daughter “no name” (Nergui, or Нэргүй in Mongolian Cyrillic), for a short period of time, before finding a more proper name later on. Mongolian civil law authorizes the citizens to change their names once in a lifetime. Obviously you can find a lot of names that appear strange for us foreigners. Here are some of them and their meaning:
  1. Хэнбилээ – Henbilee : who is this
  2. Хэн мэдэхэв – Hen medhev : who knows
  3. Эрдмийнтүлхүүр – Erdmiintulhuur : Key of education
  4. Нэргүй – Nergui : Noname
  5. Хүнбиш – Hunbish : Not human
  6. Энэбиш – Enebish : Not this
  7. Оргодол – Orgodol : Fugitive
  Another interesting fact: Mongolia is using a different system than most countries to give a full name to a person. In a sense, when a child is born, it is given a name, and keeps his father's given name as a family name itself. For example if my father's name is "Robert Redford", and I was given the name of John, then my full name for Mongolia will be "John Robert". This is therefore confusing for people who actually want to find traces of relatives through Mongolia's history. For all the members of the same family, you could have different last names!   Odd, strange, or wonderful are the Mongolian names. We could write an entire book about it! It is not very common for us Westerners to receive such meaningful names by our local traditions but why not someday, some of us could get inspired by that! Having a son named “great hero” or a daughter “wonderful pearl” can soon be trendy in our countries! For all the couples reading this article, hurry up to grab your dictionaries, books and your favorite lunar calendar to find the perfect match for your future kids! After reading this, you have no excuse :)


I am Daniel from "Horseback Mongolia". Send us your request, and we will answer you within 48 hours.
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