Singh (IPA: /ˈsɪŋ/) is a title, middle name or surname that means "lion" in various South Asian and Southeast Asian communities. Traditionally used by the Hindu Kshatriya community, it eventually became a common surname adopted by different communities including Rajputs, Jats, Bhumihars, Gurjars, Yadavs and Sikhs.[1][2][3] It was later mandated in the late 17th century by Guru Gobind Singh (born Gobind Rai) for all male Sikhs as well, in part as a rejection of caste-based prejudice.[4][5] It has also been adopted by several castes and communities. As a surname or a middle name, it is now found throughout the world across communities and religious groups, becoming more of a title than a surname.[6]

Etymology and variations

The word "Singh" is derived from the Sanskrit word सिंह (IAST: siṃha) meaning "lion", and is used in the sense "hero" or "eminent person".[7]

Several variants of the word are found in other languages:

  • In Bengali, the name is written as সিনহা (Sinha) or সিংহ (Siṁhô) which also means lion, however the name is pronounced as Shingh.
  • In Burmese, it is spelled သီဟ (thiha), derived from the Pali variant siha.
  • In Chinese, Shīzi (狮子) means lion.
  • In Gujarati, it is spelled as સિંહ (Sinh) and pronounced ['sĩɦ].[8] Another variant is Sinhji, where the suffix of respect 'ji' is added.
  • In Hindi and Nepali, the name is written सिंह, and pronounced [sɪŋɡʱ] in Hindi and [siŋɦʌ] in Nepali.
  • In Indonesia and Malaysia, Singa or Singha, means lion.
  • In Japanese, Shishi (狮子) means lion.
  • In Kannada the name is simha and written as ಸಿಂಹ.
  • In Magahi, the name is written as सिंह and is used by people of dominating castes.
  • In Maithili, the name is written as सिंह and both Singh and Sinha are used interchangeably.
  • In Malayalam, simham (സിംഹം) means lion.
  • In Marathi, the name is written सिंह and pronounced as sinhə.
  • In Meitei (officially called Manipuri), the name is written and pronounced as "Singh" (Meitei: ꯁꯤꯡꯍ), although many Meiteis are shifting back to the traditional naming system.[9]
  • In Odia, the name is written as ‘ସିଂ’ (pronounced [siŋ]) or ‘ସିଂହ’ (pronounced [siŋɦɔ] or [sinhɔ]).
  • In Punjabi (Gurmukhi script/Shahmukhi script), the name is written as ਸਿੰਘ/سِنگھ and pronounced as [sɪ́ŋɡ].
  • In Shina, it is spelled as سِنگھ.
  • In Singhala, the name is written සිංහ and pronounced Singha.
  • In Tamil, the name is Singham written as சிங்கம்.
  • In Telugu, the word for lion is simham (సింహం).
  • In Thailand, singha is known as sing (สิงห์), meaning "lion".
  • In Urdu, it is written as سِنگھ with the same pronunciation as Hindi. Variations include Simha and Sinha in Bihar.[10]


Coin of the Western Kshatrapa ruler Rudrasimha I (178 to 197 CE) who used "Simha" as suffix.

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 Western Satraps ruler Rudraraman in the second century CE. Jayasimha, the first ruler of the Chalukya dynasty to bear 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.[11]

By the sixteenth century, "Singh" had become a popular surname among Rajputs.[3] It was adopted by the Sikhs in 1699, as per the instructions of Guru Gobind Singh in order to create a parallel system of aristocratic titles being used by the neighboring Rajput hill chiefs of Anandpur Sahib.[12] Singh is used by all baptized male Sikhs, regardless of their geographical or cultural binding; the women use Kaur.[13][14]

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".[11] Bhumihars, who originally used Brahmin surnames, also started affixing Singh to their names.[15] In Bihar and Jharkhand, the surname came to be associated with power and authority, and was adopted by people of multiple castes, including Brahmin zamindars.[16] Citing Kshatriya status, Ahirs (Yadavs), Kushwaha (Koeri) and Kurmis also use 'Singh' as part of their names.[17] Many Muslim Shins also used the surname "Sing".[18] Some Jains had also adopted "Singh" in addition to various Hindu castes.[19]

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), Brahmins (e.g.Lakshmeshwar Singh), Marathas (e.g. Pratap Singh Rao Gaekwad) and Hindu Jats, (e.g. Bhim Singh Rana), Sikh Jats,(e.g. Maharaja Ranjit Singh), Kushwaha (Maurya), (e.g. Babu Singh Kushwaha), and the Bhil people (an Adivasi ethnic group).[20] The surname 'Singh' is used by many caste groups in Bihar.[21] The name is also found among the Indian diaspora.


"Singh" is generally used as a surname 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. Rajputs may have "Singh" as a middle name or last name (e.g. Manish Singh Parmar).[22] Numerous Yadavs also use this as their middle name (e.g. Mulayam Singh Yadav). To stop the practice of caste system in Sikhism, some Sikhs append "Khalsa" to Singh (e.g. Harinder Singh Khalsa). Some Sikhs and Rajputs add the names of their native villages instead (e.g. Harcharan Singh Longowal, after Longowal, Pratap Singh Khachariyawas after Khachariyawas).[23] In order to create a casteless society, many first generation Indians and Nepalis changed their surnames to "Singh", which is now a common, neutral and non caste specific surname.[24][25]

Originally, a common practice among the Rajput men was to have "Singh" as their last name, while Rajput women had the last name 'Kanwar'. However, now, many Rajput women have Singh in their name (e.g. Prashanti Singh) as well.[26]

Outside South Asia

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.[27]

See also


  1. ^ Hanks, Patrick (2013). Dictionary of American Family Names. Oxford University Press. p. 354. ISBN 9780199771691.
  2. ^ Singh, Khushwant (2004). A History of The Sikhs 1469-1839. Oxford University Press. p. 83. ISBN 9780195673081. Singh is derived from the Sanskrit simha, meaning lion. It was (and is) commonly used as a surname by the Rajputs, Gurkhas and many others belonging to Hindu martial classes
    • Singha, H.S (2000). The Encyclopedia of Sikhism. Hemkunt Press. p. 186. ISBN 9788170103011. It was and still is being used by Rajputs, Thakurs, and some other communities as part of their male names

  3. ^ a b 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.
  4. ^ James Minahan (2012). Ethnic Groups of South Asia and the Pacific An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 289. ISBN 9781598846591.
  5. ^ Angus Stevenson; Maurice Waite (2011). Concise Oxford English Dictionary: Book & CD-ROM Set. OUP Oxford. p. 1346. ISBN 9780199601103.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Patrick Hanks, ed. (2003). Dictionary of American Family Names. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 354. ISBN 978-0-19-508137-4.
  8. ^ "સિંહ". Wiktionary. Retrieved 01 May 2020.
  9. ^ "Singh Title in the Meitei name of Manipur By Okram Kumar". Retrieved 2022-08-17.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ a b Qanungo, Kalika Ranjan (1960). Studies in Rajput History. Delhi: S. Chand. pp. 138–140. OCLC 1326190.
  12. ^ Singh, Pashaura (2019). A Dictionary of Sikh Studies. Oxford University Press. p. 125. ISBN 9780192508430.
  13. ^ A History of the Sikh People (1469-1988) by Dr. Gopal Singh ISBN 81-7023-139-6[page needed]
  14. ^ Catherine B. Asher; Cynthia Talbot (2006). India Before Europe. Cambridge University Press. p. 269. ISBN 9780521809047.
  15. ^ Virendra Prakash Singh (1992). Community And Caste In Tradition. Commonwealth. p. 113. ISBN 9788171692422.
  16. ^ Pranava K Chaudhary (2009-02-21). "Using surnames to conceal identity". The Times of India. Retrieved 2013-01-18.
  17. ^ Bhavan's Journal, Volume 12, Issues 1-16. 1965. p. 123.
  18. ^ Schmidt, Ruth Laila (2008). A Grammar of the Shina Language of Indus Kohistan. Harrassowitz. p. 11. ISBN 9783447056762.
  19. ^ Frankel, Francine R. (1990). Dominance and State Power in Modern India. Vol. 2. Oxford University Press. p. 17. The surname, Singh, for example, was appropriated over a period of several centuries of acculturation by different Hindu castes, including lower castes as well as followers of Jainism.
  20. ^ Gupta, Sanjukta Das (2012). Narratives from the Margins: Aspects of Adivasi History in India. Primus Books. p. 134. ISBN 978938060710-8.
  21. ^ Singh, Santosh (2015). Ruled or Misruled: Story and Destiny of Bihar. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9789385436420. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  22. ^ Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, Volume I
  23. ^ 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. {{cite book}}: |author= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  24. ^ Gellner, David N. (9 June 2018). Global Nepalis: Religion, Culture, and Community in a New and Old Diaspora. Oxford University Press. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-19-909337-3.
  25. ^ Deshpande, Ashwini (2011). The Grammar of Caste: Economic Discrimination in Contemporary India. Oxford University Press. p. 39. ISBN 9780199088461. Some individuals often drop their surnames and use generic names such as Kumar, Lal, Singh, or Chowdhary that are not jati specific.
  26. ^ 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
  27. ^ San Grewal (2007-07-26). "'Singh' ban denounced". Toronto Star.
Retrieved from ""