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From: Xinhuanet 2005-03-04 16:13:00
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Names proclaim Tibetan aims

On the roof of the world, the choice of name is critical for the youth. Economic development is playing a key role in the naming of newborn children, reflecting the wishes and desires of Tibetan parents.

Dainba Dagyai, 40, gave his newborn third daughter the name Gesang Medog, which means the flower of good days in the Tibetan language.

His name, which his parents hoped would bring him good luck according to their religion, was chosen by a Living Buddha.

"Both my parents are devout believers in Buddhism," Dainba Dagyai said. For thousands of years, ethnic Tibetans considered it an honour if a Living Buddha chose a name for their children.

Tibetans who could not afford this would name their children after the day the child was born, such as "Dawa" which means Monday, and "Migmar" which means Tuesday.

"Although I have had good luck, I still hope my daughter enjoys a happier life than my generation," said Dainba Dagyai, who sells religious articles on Bargor Street in central Lhasa.

Due to a lack of medical services, the infant mortality rate was very high and average life expectancy was only 35.5 years in the region before the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951.

Many parents chose to name their children "Cering", meaning longevity. Some even gave the names "Gyigyai" (dog's dung) and Pag'gyag (pig's dung) to their babies in the hope of driving away devils.

Nowadays the average life-span of Tibetans is 67 years, statistics show. Of the region's total population of 2.6 million, more than 200,000 are 60 years old and above.

Owing to their region's fast economic development and rapid social progress, well-to-do Tibetans have begun giving their children names which express their hopes for a happier life.

Tibetans have also kept up to date with the times. As humans enter the knowledge-based economy era, many names like "Yoindain Norbu," meaning treasure of knowledge, and "Yoindain Jigme," meaning knowledge and courage, frequently occur on school rolls.


Although a name is only a symbol for a person, the change in children's names reflects dramatic social changes.

These days more Tibetans want to give an appropriate name to their child and the use of family names, which indicate the social status of a family, is emerging among ordinary Tibetans.

Gesang, a research fellow with the Tibet's Academy of Social Sciences, calls this a "surname phenomenon" among Tibetans. He said the fact that ordinary Tibetans have begun to name their children independently and with their own surnames was not only a result of absorbing other advanced cultures, but also a sign of Tibet's progress as a civilized society.

People care about where they come from, their bloodline and what family they belong to only after they have personal freedom and independence, Gesang said.

In fact, there used to be no surnames in old Tibet. Many officials, noble people, high-ranking monks and Living Buddhas used to put the names of their manors before their own names to indicate their social status.

But this was not the case with ordinary people, Gesang pointed out. Ordinary Tibetans had very low social status and were deprived of their freedom by slave owners who treated them like animals and beat them arbitrarily.

Gesang said the appearance of surnames among ordinary people reflected the strong sense of personal independence of ethnic Tibetans.

"They hope to use bloodlines to closely unite their families," Gesang said.

[editor : ]
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