mom and baby

modern sanskrit baby names

When a pregnant friend asks for suggestions on naming her baby, I love thinking of names with her. When I hear a name I love, that’s Sanskrit yet modern, I look up the meaning of it even if we aren’t planning on more kids.

I just love everything about a good name.

I wasn’t always like this. Growing up, when someone would butcher my name, I used to wish for something more American sounding. But then there was this presentation in college that changed everything.

I had applied for a Resident Advisor position at my dormitory and we had to give a presentation on our name. It was to be creative, not just a tell-tale story of how your parents chose it. So the poet in me wrote a spoken word poem about my whole family praying for my premature 1.5 lb body in an incubator in New York City, thus my grandfather from India stating my name as more of a truth than anything else when I survived. That poem allowed me to understand the honor of my name (and it also got me the position ha)

Even now, Puja, which means prayer in Sanskrit, became my namesake through the trials and tribulations of this blessed life with my own prayers in meditation.

So when I was pregnant, of course I wanted a name with meaning for my little one.

As a teenager, I wrote a short story about the adventures of 2 sisters, after my own sister and I, and I named the characters Laila and Maiya. I spelled their names this way rather than traditionally to be unique and remember telling friends pre-kids I would always name my two daughters these names spelled this way together…and so when my husband and I made a name list for our daughter, we included both of these amongst many others (girls names are so fun!)

Our daughter was born in the middle of the night at 2:57 am. Even with that alien appearance newborns all come out as, she had this stunningly beautiful face. We chose Laila, Persian origin for night beauty…but also to honor our grandmothers. My grandmother’s name is Lila (Sanskrit for divine playfulness) and my husband’s grandmother’s nick name was Lily. For Laila’s middle name we chose Devi, after the Hindu goddess…and she sure is a strong-headed goddess these days;) I also love that my mother’s name is Devila so my daughter carries the generations of her matriarchal lineage through her name.

With my son, our list was not as definite. We just couldn’t decide on any names that we loved. We ended up naming our son Ayan without much research. My husband went home to shower while I rested after the birth and when he came back to the hospital he said the name popped in his mind during the shower. It felt perfect. I had wanted it to start with A like my husband’s name. In Sanskrit, Ayan means to halt or stop, representing the solstice or the path of the sun. Ayan is also another name for the Hindu Lord Ganesha, since Ganesha represents the two solstices. We now know a few other families who chose to name their son Ayan also. One pronounces it with a modern flair, as a long A first (A-yan rather than the traditional sound like the texts write ie. narAYAN). A few other families have chosen to spell it with the Arabic influence as Ayaan, (Arabic for gift of God).

It’s so amazing how one name can be said so differently by families, which is why I love Sanskrit. It is more of a root language that words-and names-can stem from.

South Asians everywhere often wonder if they should go down the Sanskrit route nowadays. What if it just makes it harder for people who aren’t familiar with the language to pronounce your child’s name?

But the way I see it is that we are so fortunate to have this rich cultural treasure box of depth and knowledge. Even if you aren’t Indian, these names may speak to you too. It’s the sounds of the letters that once put together…just feel beautiful.

Thousands and thousands of years ago, Sanskrit arose among a consciousness of people who valued inner peace over outer possessions. Sanskrit was designed to express the ideas and concepts like yoga, medicine (Ayurveda), astronomy/astrology (Jyotisha), sound (Mantra), mathematics, and many others was all recorded in Sanskrit, both aurally (via chanting and vibration) and in writing with the ancient texts. It’s probably why you can feel the energy of Sanskrit words (or names) when said aloud. Some people research and even name their child according to a letter aligned with Vedic astrology (that’s a whole other thing).

Remember the name you choose doesn’t have to be “by the book” like we did with Ayan.

For Laila, rather than naming her Lila or spelling it as Leila, we spun it to what we wanted. Some people call our daughter Lilah because of her spelling with an a instead of an e (Leila), but it’s rare. I think having a name that is unique or spelled in a cool way can actually be fun! (Although I’m not into crazy interpretations where you can’t recognize the name anymore)

For this list, it was hard to narrow down just one or two names per letter but I remember when I had searched for names while pregnant, the lengthy lists online just drove me crazy. I often turned to the sacred texts and would find words that would just pop out at me too.

Here are Sanskrit names I love the meanings of…

(I do not know Sanskrit fluently so cannot tell you that these meanings are exact)

I also think that these names are ones that feel modern and not harsh or hard to say. In the end, your child will be who he or she is no matter what you name them, but at least you can find something that will try to encompass their amazing light 🙂

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