Naming Customs In The Indus Valley Region - II

From ancient references to more recent influences, the names of people and places in Sindh and Balochistan come from a wide variety of sources

Naming Customs In The Indus Valley Region - II

The people of the Indus Valley Civilisation named their children after animals, birds, insects, fruit trees and flowers. Naming practices were influenced by a variety of cultural, spiritual and practical reasons. They did this for following reasons:

1) Totemic beliefs

2) Desirable qualities

3) Connection with nature

4) Mythological and legendary inspiration

5) Memorialising events and seasons

6) Identity, social bonds and attachments

In the first part of this article, we considered some of the themes that come up in historical naming practices of the people of the region.

We now take a look at some of the names inspired by birds, animals, insects and the flora of the region, as well as some other sources of inspiration.


Many elephant seals have been discovered at Indus Valley Civilisation sites. In Dravidian languages, words like Pilu, Pella, Palla, Pallava, Pilluvam, and Piluru are used for elephants. The following Sindhi words refer to elephants and their power: Pilpao, Pilmast (Feelmast), and Piru. Pilaji Khan is a popular Indian name. Another name for the elephant is Gaja or Gajah, derived from Sanskrit and meaning elephant. The name Gajraj is a Hindi name that means King of Elephants. Pilkhana and Gajgah mean places where elephants live. Hathi Mal and Hathi Singh are popular names. Krishna Hathi Singh, an Indian writer, was the sister of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Elephants are revered in Hinduism and are seen as symbols of strength, wisdom, and power. Gaju Mal is a well-known proper noun in the Hindu community of Sindh, Punjab, and Balochistan, while Gajan is a famous Muslim name. Gajanpur is the name of a neighbourhood in Larkana City. Gaj Singh ruled from 1746 to 1887 AD as Maharaja of Bikaner state in India.


Ustrah means camel in Hindi. Jonathan Mark Kenoyer discusses copper tablet M 1532 (Cat. No.32) from Mohenjo-Daro, which bears a long-necked dromedary or one-humped camel. A skeleton of a one-year-old camel was also found from Mohenjo-Daro’s late period levels during excavations (Meadow 1984). The archaeological site of Pirak, excavated during 1968 to 1974, located 20 km east of Mehrgarh, has provided remains of handmade pottery and terracotta figurines of horses, camels, and donkeys. The site of Pirak dates back to 1700 BC and 700 BC. Uth faqir is a common name in Sindh, while Uthwal or Othwal is a caste or clan name found in Sindh and Balochistan. These camels were mostly kept by Jat camel-breeder tribes for carrying burdens. Such caravans travelled through the Indus Valley to Mesopotamia for trade and commerce.


Many seals of rhinoceroses have been discovered from Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. Arab traveler Ibn Batuta saw rhinoceroses in the jungles of the River Indus in 1333 AD. Mughal Emperor Babur (d 1530 AD) and his party killed a rhinoceros near Peshawar. Rhinoceros is called Genda in Urdu and Sindhi. Horns of this animal are used for traditional medicines. Genda Mal is a popular Hindu boy's name.


The Indus is called the Lion River, flowing from China and ending in the Arabian Sea. Some lion figurines in stone and terracotta were discovered at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. These lions survived in the Indus Valley until the mid-1800s, with the last believed to be killed in 1842 near Kot Diji in Sindh. Describing tigers in Larkana district, Lieutenant Hugh James, Deputy Collector Shikarpur, writes in his “Report on the Purguna of Chandookah,” December 1847, “Tigers are met with in the forests on the banks of the Indus, occasionally. I saw 2 in the early part of 1846; but the visits of these animals are not frequent. They come down from the forests above Sukkur.” (Page 720) A roaring lion was spotted near Gadap, Karachi, on 7 June 2023. Arabic names for lion are Asad, Haydar, and Fahad. The people of Sindh and Balochistan name their children Sher, Mazari, Kehar, and Sheenh. Singh and Singham are Hindu male names. The name Singapore means Lion City.


The concept of bull worship or the bull cult is very old. In Sumerian religion, Marduk is the Bull of Utu. In Hinduism, Nandi was the sacred bull of Shiva. The treasure of Raja Nand Gujjar was a mystery in Sindh. He was the father of Moomal of Mirpur Mathelo. Nand is a Hindu boy's name. Nandni is a Hindu girl’s name.

Kangal is the name for crow in Sindhi. It is said that feeding crows brings good luck. The crow is a messenger in Shah Latif’s poetry. Kangan Khadhi is an old part of Hyderabad City


Naahar or Nahar is a caste. The tomb of Tahir Khan Nahar (15th Century AD) is situated in Seetpur, Muzaffargarh, Punjab, Pakistan. The English meaning of the word Naahar (Nahar) is wolf, tiger, or lion. Nahrani is the name of a clan in Jamali Balochis. Another name for wolf in Sindhi is Baghad. Baghiyar is a tribe and a natural canal in lower Sindh.


Varaha means pig, the boar avatar of Vishnu. The other terms are Khanzeer and Soor. Sri Varaha Swami Temple is located in Andhra Pradesh, India.


A swift animal capable of reaching speeds up to 100 km/h. It’s also a Muslim girl’s name.


Sia or Siyala means a fox in Hindi. Siyalchand is a Hindu name, while Lombar means male fox in Sindhi. A branch of the old Kur Dato Canal is called Lombar Wah, which still irrigates agricultural lands in Shahdadkot and Qubo Saeed Khan.


There was the Cult of the Serpent. The nagas or snakes were worshipped by people of the Indus Valley Civilisation, most likely by the Dravidians of South India. Many serpent motifs are found on pottery at Indus sites such as Lothal. Nagdev is a caste among Hindus. Nagdev and Nagpal are names meaning Protector of the Snakes. Nangal is a Muslim name, for example, Nangal Sain is a Muslim saint whose shrine is located near Mohenjo-Daro in Taluka Dokri, District Larkana. Nango is a popular villager's name.


The peacock is a well-known Indian bird. Another name for peacock, Mayur, is a classic name symbolising its elegance and vibrant plumage. The colorful beauty of Tharparkar’s culture is the peacock, found there in great numbers. Moriyas (Mauryas) literally mean “belonging to the place of peacocks.” Takht I Tavus, or the Peacock Throne, was a famous jeweled throne of Mughal Emperors in India since the 17th Century AD. Mor is a Sindhi name for a peacock. Ustad Mor Wadho and Ustad Makhno (father of singer Master Manzoor) were brothers and Sindhi classical singers and musicians of Shahdadkot.


The name Baz or Shahbaz Khan comes from this bird of prey.


It is a Eurasian crane that frequently visits Sindh. The people of Sindh call this bird Koonj. The female name is Koonjan. Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai has sung about this bird in his poetry with great love. Other similar names are Hansraj and Saras.


Kangal is the name for crow in Sindhi. It is said that feeding crows brings good luck. The crow is a messenger in Shah Latif’s poetry. Kangan Khadhi is an old part of Hyderabad City.


This bird builds a nest suspended from branches in the shape of a snake charmer’s pungi or murli. Babar Khan Kandhro is a Sindhi village name.


There are three names for parrot in Sindhi: 1) Toto, 2) Chatoon, and 3) Mithu. All these are proper nouns found in both Hindu and Muslim communities, e.g., Toto Mal, Tota Ram, Totaldas, Chatoon Mal, and Mithu Mal. Toti is a female name.


Known for its melodious voice, Koel or Cuckoo is a lovely girl’s name.


A common name for girls, it is a melodious and beautiful bird.


This bird is found in Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia. Sindhis name their children Cheeho, which means warbler.


Popri is a Sindhi girl’s name meaning fish. The names Machhko (North Sindh) and Machhi Khan are derived from this term.


A person called Dedar Faqir (Frog the beggar) lived in Shahdadkot during the 1990s.


The scorpion is called Bichhu in Urdu and Vichhun in Sindhi.


The snail is Kod in Sindhi. Diwan Kodoo Mal and Kod Khan Zardari are famous names in Hindu and Muslim society in Sindh. Another name for snail is Ghongha.


Silk cloth is produced from this worm. It is bound around the wrist to avert the evil eye. People name their girls Resham after this worm.


This is an insect with a pair of wings. In Sindhi, these beetles are called Tindan. It is a surname found among Hindu Khatris and Sikhs of Punjab, India.


The Butterfly is Popat in Sindhi. Diwan Popat Mal is a Hindu name.


We refer here to soft-bodied beetles, also called lightning bugs and glow worms. People name their children Jugnoo or Patang. Many years ago, a dervish called Patang Faqir Wadho lived in the village Angh, Taluka Shahdadkot.


The ant is called Makoro in Sindhi. Garhi Makoro is a village name in Taluka Warah, District Larkana, Sindh. Makoro Mal is a Hindu name commonly found in the Hindu community in Sindh. Kolhis worship ants as their gods and consider them divine.


The Sanskrit word Madhu means honeybee. The bee is believed to be holy in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. Madhu Lal Hussain (Poet), Pandit Madhu Sarup Vats (Archaeologist), and Madhubala (Actress) are famous names inspired by this lovely bee. Indus people took honey as a selling item to ancient Mesopotamia.


This is a holy tree worshipped by people of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Names derived from Pipal include Piprasar, Pipri, and Piper. Pipal Khan Bhojwana is a village name.


The leafless caper bush, or Kirrur, is very common in Sindh and Balochistan. Pieces of its wood are used in masonry for strengthening old buildings. In Urdu, it is called Karel. Sindhi people name their children after this important tree. For example, Kirir Khan is a common name in Sindh.


It is called the toothbrush tree. It is a native tree of Sindh, Punjab, and Balochistan. Its roots are called Piloo or Miswak. This tree is under threat now. Khabar Khan is a common Muslim name in upper regions. Peroon Mal is a Hindu baby name.


Sir Richard Francis Burton writes in his book Sindh and The Races that inhabit the Valley of the Indus (London 1851) that “The wilder Sindhis of the hills are in the habit of calling their children by the names of plants and fruits, as Kando (thorn) and Ambu (Mango)” (Page 258). Diwan Ambu Mal is a Hindu name, while Amb Gopang is a well-known Sindhi writer.


The wood of the Dayal or Cedar tree is very useful. Beautiful wood is prepared from its timber. Dado Dayal was a Hindu saint who composed poetry in Hindi and Sindhi. Government Dayal Singh College Lahore was built in 1910.


The amazing Neem tree is commonly grown in South Asia. There is a village called Nim in Shikarpur district. Nim Faqir is a Muslim name.


The thorn tree or Kando is a wild tree. Its scientific name is Prosopis spugeia.

Date Palm

In Arabic, the date palm tree is called Nakhl, while its fruit is called Tamar. Tamar is a Muslim name. Tamar Faqir was the chief disciple of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai.


This is a fruit-bearing tree. Darhoon (Pomegranate) is a popular Sindhi name, e.g., Rais Darhoon Khan.


Apple is called Soof in Sindhi. Syed Soofan Shah was a well-known personality. Soof Ali Abro is a Sindhi writer.


Kewro means banana in Sindhi. Kewro Khan Machhi was a poet of Kandiaro.


Lemon is called Limon in Sindhi. The village Limo Khan Junejo is situated in Shahdadkot Taluka. Limo Junejo or Soan Thariro is an archaeological site in the east of this village, which belongs to the Indus period 2600-1900 BC.


Morus alba is the scientific name of this tree. It’s called Toot in Sindhi. Toot Khan is a popular name in Sindh and Balochistan. Tootak is the name of an area in Khuzdar.


There are two names for sugarcane in Sindhi: 1) Gano and 2) Kamand. Gano Mal is a Hindu name, while Kamand Khan is a Muslim name. Kamand was the brother of Alam Khan Bugti, who was killed while fighting against British troops in 1847.


Sindhis call an onion Basar. Basar Mal is a Hindu name.

Calotropis Gigantea

A plant that grows widely in Sindh. Its milk, oil, and flowers are used for medicinal purposes, while its dry branches are used as firewood. Sindhis have names such as Ak Khan, or simply Akan or Akoo.


This is a flowering plant also known as Mehandi or the dye tree. Mehandi is a girl's name.


This flower is considered holy in Buddhism. Kanwal is a girl's name derived from this flower.


The rose is known as Ghulab. Both Hindus and Muslims use this beautiful name, eg, Gulab Rai, Gulab Chand and Gulab Khan. Gulab Rai was a Sindhi singer.


Chambeli, Moogra (Motio), and Rabel are all female names.

Nerium Oleander

The Sindhi and Urdu name for this plant is Zangi. Zangi Khan is a Muslim name.


Holy Basil, or Tulsi, is a herb with many uses. Tulsi and Tulsidas are Hindu names.

Bitter Melon

This is both a vegetable and a person's name. Sindhis call it Karelo.

Camel Thorn

Camel Thorn, or Kandero, is a well-known Sindhi name.

Names inspired by shrubs, herbs, and spices

Some names inspired by these include: Tooh, Chibhar, Mitero, Loung, Foto, Jeero, Mirch, and Kesu.

Names inspired by metals, minerals, and trading items

Some of these names are: Soan (Gold), Chandi (Silver), Ruk (Steel), Heera (Diamond), Butter (Makhan), Sharbat (Cold drink), Khatan (Pickle), Jhando (Flag), Noubat (Trumpet), Moti (Pearl), Sheesham (Wood), Attur (Perfume), Sandal (Wood), Chandan (Wood), Kafoor (Camphor), Lakho/Lac (Liquid of Banyan tree), Misri (Candy), Badam (Almond), Patasho (Candy), Kajol (Cosmetics), Deeo (Oil lamp), and Doulat (Coins).

Names inspired by colours

Some people's names are inspired by natural colours, including Bago (White), Karo (Black), Lal (Red), and Sabz (Green).

Names inspired by races, tribes, and clans

These names include Malah, Abro, Jam, Sodho, Turk, Mughal, Baloch, Pathan (Oghan), and Mengal. Most of these are the races, tribes, and clans of South and West Asia. In the same context, Turks, Mughals and Pashtuns (‘Pathans’) mostly spread from Afghanistan to India.