Sikhs have a given name and one or both of a surname and a Khalsa name. The surname may be a family name or a caste name. A Sikh woman does not change her faith name when she marries.
On becoming a Khalsa, the Sikh undertakes the obligation to wear the physical symbols of this status (unshorn hair, turban, comb, steel bracelet, drawers, and dagger) and takes the name "lion", usually romanized as Singh, if a man, or /kaur/ "princess", usually romanized as Kaur, if a woman. (Note that Singh is spelled irregularly: it is written /singh/ but pronounced /siṅg) These names reflect the strong egalitarianism of the Sikh religion. They were originally intended to replace the Sikh's original surname, which was often a caste name.
Some Sikhs do replace their original surname with their Khalsa name, but many retain their original surname and add the Khalsa name before it. Thus, a man born/Saṃdīp Barār/ may become /Saṃdīp Singh/ but more likely will become /Saṃdīp Singh Barār/. Similarly, a woman born /Haraparīt Gill/ may become/Haraparīt Kaur/ or /Haraparīt Kaur Gill/.
Sikhs use a set of several hundred given names, all or nearly all meaningful, usually with a religious or moral theme. For example,/Ujjāl/ means "bright, clean, holy". A family often selects a name for a child by opening the Sikh holy scripture, the /Gurū Granth Sāhib/ to a certain "aang" and choosing a name that begins with the first letter of the first word on the "aang". Given names are not in general associated with a particular gender. Sikh names are non-gender specific and are bisexual with same suffixes used for the two genders. There is however, a gender connotation attached when pronouncing a name, say Parkāśh for example; it may be either male or female, but/parakāśō/ is female while/parakāśū/ is male.
Modern Sikh families living in bigger, cosmopolitan cities, have adopted names from other communities as well. For instance, in New Delhi you might find a Sikh girl named simply Amita. In this case, the second name Kaur has been done away with and more significantly, the name Amita is unlike any conventional Sikh first name and is, in fact, a name more commonly associated with a Hindu girl. Some Sikh girls take on last name of Singh, a practice more common in larger cities. Some believers maintain that this practice of naming without using the word Singh or Kaur is manmat (Against the will of the Guru) and is prohibited in the Rehat Maryada (The way of living of Sikhs).
- Ahluwalia, M. S. (2006) Naming and Sikh Religion: Culture, Tradition and Global Impact. Text of talk presented at the International Conference on Naming in Asia: Local Identities and Global Change, 23–24 February 2006, Singapore.
- Kaushik, Devendra Kumar (2000) Cataloguing of Indic Names in AACR-2. Delhi: Originals. ISBN 81-7536-187-5.
- www.SikhNames.com Comprehensive list of Sikh names, their meanings and pronunciation.