On the Documentation and Construction of Period Mongolian Names

by Baras-aghur Naran (Qairatai@aol.com)

Eurasian culture is not as richly researched in omonastics as the cultures of Western Europe. Those desiring a Turkic or Mongol persona do not have the benefit of name dictionaries or the various rolls of arms from our time period. Nor do they have readily available works on naming practices, name elements, or the methods used to produce the names found in primary sources.

The purpose of this paper is to inform those interested in the sources available for documenting a period name, and also the methods by which a period name may be constructed and documented. This paper also may be of use to the heralds in our Society in dealing with those who desire a Turco-Mongol name.

Before going into specifics, there needs to be some background given on the subject. Most interest in Turco-Mongol personas usually stems from the time of the Mongol empire. During the Mongols' period of conquest, many peoples came under the rule of the Mongols. Most of these did not speak the language now known as Mongolian, even in its older forms. The Mongols' neighboring tribes spoke various dialects and languages of Turkic origin. Mongolian itself is a separate language of Turkic origin, and shares many of the same words as Turkic or Turkish. Many names from our time period have both Turkic and Mongol elements, as well as influences from the spread of Buddhism.

The people known as Mongols were first mentioned in the writings of the Tang Dynasty in China between 618 and 907 AD. The period time in which a name can be called 'Mongol' is therefore between the 7th century and the end of our time period, with most names dating between the 12th and 14th centuries, this being the period of the extensive conquest. The bulk of this research comes from this extremely active time period for the culture.

A problem that exists when attempting to choose a period Mongol name is that often the sources of Mongol history were not written by the Mongols. Most Western histories do not have Mongol names in their true form. The writings of Marco Polo are a prime example of names spelled phonetically in an attempt to preserve their sound in the author's native language. However, after much reading and collecting, I have come across five primary sources that are rich with Mongol names in their uncorrupted forms. It is these that I would recommend when choosing and documenting a period Mongolian name. I have found that it is best to scan the indexes of these works and then read on each choice. This will answer questions on gender and usually whether the name is Turkic or Mongolian.

The leading primary source among all Mongolists is the invaluable Secret History of the Mongols. I recommend the English translation by the late Francis Woodman Cleaves, a noted linguist and professor Emeritus of Far Eastern languages for Harvard University. The original text is dated to 1240 AD in it's native Mongolian, but unfortunately that text has not survived.

It was translated phonetically into Chinese characters in 1363 AD and it is from this text that the majority of the English version was derived.

Professor Cleaves provides a most complete index of names, both personal, place, and clan/tribe. These names are in the original Mongolian and seem to be uncorrupted. Meanings are included for some of the names in the index and others can be found in the footnotes for the text.

Another primary source rich in names is the World History by the Persian, Rashid-al-Din. An English translation of it's third section entitled "The Successors of Genghis Khan" was done by John Andrew Boyle, the head of the Department of Persian Studies at the University of Manchester. The text is dated circa 1317 AD and covers all the Great Khans after Genghis to Kublai, their families, relatives, and accomplishments. An extensive index is provided which includes all the names mentioned in the book. Rashid was dedicated to accuracy and attempted to preserve the Mongol names in their original form. Dr. Boyle attests that Rashid was supposed to have had access to the sacred Mongol chronicle, the Altan Debter, which only Mongols were allowed to read. It was the official history of the Mongols supposedly to have been commissioned by Genghis Khan. The index is particularly helpful in that by listing all the names, even the ones that repeat, it shows the apparent popularity of certain names and their derivatives across a nearly one hundred year span. This work is also useful for documenting period Arabic names, especially names of those who were in service to, or in direct opposition to, the Mongols.

The History of the World Conqueror by Ala-ad-Din 'Ata-Malik Juvaini, another translation in two volumes by J.A. Boyle, is another source rich in names.

This text dates from 1253 AD and although it is not as rich in names as the previous sources, it is still a viable source for period names. Several of the names in Juvaini, as it is known among leading Mongolists, correspond to those in Rashid-al-Din and the Secret History. Juvaini is, by far, the best source for the documentation of period names with both Turkic and Mongol elements. A case can be made for a semi-cross cultural naming practice from this work alone. It is also excellent for showing words shared by Turkic and Mongolian, as well as period Arabic names.

It needs to be stated here that in all of these primary sources, some names have titles attached to them. As pointed out by Marta as tu Mika-Mysliwy in her paper entitled Mongolian Naming Practices in the Proceedings of the 1990 Knowne World Heraldic Symposium, some titles and epithets that would give a name historical significance should not be used. Marta provides an excellent list of titles and epithets with her paper as well as a pronunciation guide and an excellent list of Mongol clan/tribe names. This is a worthy article to have as a reference when preparing submissions or commenting.

The last two primary sources that I recommend for documentation purpose are two chronicles still available in the original Mongolian. The Altan Tobchi and Erdeni Tobchi were written 58 years apart and are dated at 1604 and 1662 respectively. Although both are technically out of period, both contain a wealth of names in their true forms. The English translation of the Altan Tobchi by Charles Bawden, contains both the English and the Mongolian texts, but no index. However it is worth the read and the sifting if one is looking for an unusual and original Mongol names. It also recounts the history of the Mongols after the fall of the Yuan dynasty and the end of the Mongol empire, up to the 17th century.

The Erdeni Tobchi is commonly called "The Chronicles of Sagang Sechen". The English translation by John Krueger is called The Bejeweled Summary of the Origin of the Khan: A History of the Eastern Mongols to 1662. Although I have not researched this work personally, it is regarded by nearly all modern Mongolists as a primary source of accurate Mongol history. The names in this work are reputed to be uncorrupted.

To begin the discussion on a documentable constructed period Mongolian name, it must be observed that the primary sources written in Mongolian were not written in the Mongolian spoken today. The official language of modern Mongolia is a dialect called Khalkhan. This dialect supposedly had its roots in Ghengis Khan's original tribe. Written Mongolian is very different from this. The Mongols did not have a written language until Ghengis commanded that it be put into Uighur characters in 1204. These Uighur characters are based in an Aramaic alphabet originally taken from a northern Semitic alphabet. Part of what distinguishes the written Mongolian alphabet is that there are several letters which have no distinction between them. For example, there is no difference between a written t and d, k and g, o and u, and ö and ü.

The language used to write Mongolian is very different from the language used to speak Mongolian. Spoken Mongolian has three major periods. The earliest form of Mongolian is called Ancient Mongolian and was used up until the 12th century. Ancient Mongolian was characterized by an intervolic consonant "g" (pronounced gh in English) proceeding a long vowel and a vocalized "h" proceeding an opening vowel. The second period for Mongolian is called Middle Mongolian, found in use up to the 16th century. Middle Mongolian was characterized by the replacing of the intervolic consonant before the long vowel with something similar to a glottal stop and the retention of the vocalized "h". It is this version of Mongolian that gave birth to the English word "horde". This word comes from the Middle Mongolian word "(h)Ordu, meaning 'camp'. Modern Mongolian, or Khalkhan, has lost the vocalized "h" and dropped some final consonants and medial vowels, which makes it read and sound totally different from Middle Mongolian.

The language used to write Mongolian in period is an 11th or 13th century dialect that kept the intervolic "g" of Ancient and Middle Mongolian, but dropped the vocalized "h" proceeding opening vowels. This dialect was only used for writing, and there is no evidence of it ever being a spoken language.

In his article "Naming Patterns Among the Mongols" Larry Moses describes several methods the Mongols use to choose a name for a newborn. Among those mentioned are names chosen from the first things seen after the mother has given birth, those based on events close in chronological proximity to the birth, those that called on positive influence (ie Cheren, a name in the Secret History, means "long life"), and names calling on religious figures or watchful ancestors, or chosen from the Buddhist texts. Animal names were popular among the Mongols, as well and colours, numbers, weaponry, and metals, with the names not being gender specific. It must be remembered that because the Mongols were a nomadic people practicing a shamanistic religion, names were chosen that reflected important objects, events, and concepts in daily life.

Moses also describes the structure of Mongol names as it has changed through history. The oldest names, such as the ones found in the Secret History, do not seem to be influenced by other cultures. Late in the 13th century, Sanskrit elements were introduced through contacts with other cultures like the Uighur. Also in the 13th century, Tibetan Buddhist names and elements due to the Mongol ruling elite converting to that faith. Although the 13th century was also the height of the Yuan Dynasty in China, no Chinese names were assimilated into the Mongol culture. The last evolution of names in our time period was the reintroduction of Buddhist elements and ideologies during the 16th century.

Moses cites Mongol names as having four linguistic models, three of which are pertinent to our use. The first model is names consisting of one word.

Second is a single word name with a grammatical inflection. Third is names made of two identifiable words. For ease of reference, these will be referred to in the same fashion Moses refers to them: n pattern, n+d pattern, and n+n pattern, respectively.

According to Moses, the majority of the names in the Secret History are of the n pattern (320 of 450). The meanings of these names are descriptive, and are usually nouns and adjectives. Primary source examples of these names are animal names (lion, bear, falcon, lark), colours or colour combinations (gold, red, dappled, roan and white), tangible objects (cliff, rock, mirror, iron, flower, jewel), and words with beneficial meaning (eternal, long life, loyalty, dignity), Other examples include environmental occurrences (fire, water, thunderbolt), and numbers (twenty, seventy, eighty, nine, one hundred).

The n+d pattern provides several names with one root. Examples of this are the Mongol word for iron is 'temur'. From this root word come the names Temur, Temujin, Temuge, Temuder, and Temulun. Note the dropping of the final consonant before the addition of the grammatical inflection. Grammatical inflections sometimes have a specific meaning, but do not stand on their own.

The suffix -jin means "of". Hence the literal meaning of Temujin is "of iron". This suffix is still used today to create patronymics. Another suffix which carries a specific meaning is -tai, which can be spelled -dai, -dei, -tai, or -tei, all of which show possession. An example is Chagatai, which is constructed from the root word Chagan, which means white, and the suffix -tai. The overall meaning of the name is "he who is white."

Primary sources confirm the use of this naming pattern. The World History of Rashid-al-Din is a particularly good source for creating a precedent for this type of name.

Period names of the n+n pattern are combined of two elements, both of which can stand on their own. The exception to this are names of this pattern that consist of a given name and and epithet. Examples of these are Al Altan (crimson gold), Qori Buqa (twenty bulls), and Mongke Temur (eternal iron).

However, there are a few rules that need to be observed when using this name pattern. First, avoid name combinations that do not make common sense together. Next, personal nicknames such as fat, wrinkled, popeye, etc may not be combined at all, nor can the names of clans or tribes. Animal names may be combined with names that are of a different type (ie a name could be constructed of black wolf, but not tiger wolf). As in all instances of rules, there are always exceptions that can be documented. These are general rules that should be followed.

As mentioned before, the Mongols did not use surnames. Therefore for purposes of submission, refer to the Compleat Anachronist #54, wherein is stated that the second element of most Mongol names is an epitet relating to the first name or personal characteristics, or clan identification. Good reference articles for submission and for checking submissions are "Naming Patterns Among the Mongols" by Larry Moses, and "Mongol Naming Practices" by Marta as tu Mika-Mysliwy. Of the primary sources listed above, The Secret History of the Mongols and The World History by Rashid-al-Din are the best to have on hand.


Negan one
Qoyor two
Gurban three
Dorben four
Taban five
Jurgaghan six
Dologhon seven
Naiman eight
Yisun nine
Arban ten
Qorin twenty
Juchin thirty
Dochin forty
Tabin fifty
Jaran sixty
Dalan seventy
Nayan eighty
Yeran ninety
Jagun one hundred
Minghan one thousand
Tumen ten thousand

Common Name Elements from Primary Sources

Bayan rich
Qadan cliff
Qutugh dignity or holiness
Qutlugh fortunate
Temur iron
Burilgi destroyer
Arigh pure
Boke strong
Berke difficult
Tegus perfect
Yeke great
Batu loyal
Tolui mirror
Arslan lion
Checheg flower
Erdene jewel
Mongke eternal
Cheren long life
Bayar joy
Qorchi quiver bearer
Chinua wolf
Unegen fox
Sube eye of needle or strategic point

Common Name Elements from Other Sources

Gal fire
Osol increase
Maidar Maitreya Buddha
Vachir thunderbolt
Nasan life
Enq peace
Oyugun wisdom
Delger abundance
Dash good luck
Suren majestic
Gan steel
Qacha flank


Koke blue
Ulagan red
Bora gray
Shria yellow
Alagh dappled or mottled
Qulan roan and white
Chagan white
Qara black
Altan gold or golden
Al crimson
Mongo silver

Gramatical Inflections found in Primary Sources and Mongol Naming Patterns

-dai/-dei show possesion
-tai/-tei show possesion
-jin/-chin of


Bawden, Charles. The Mongol Chronicle Altan Tobchi. Text, Translation, and Critical Notes. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1955.

Boyle, J.A., translator. History of the World Conqueror, Ala-ad-din 'Ata- Malik Juvaini. 2 volumes. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1958.

Boyle, J.A., translator. Successors of Ghenghis Khan Rasid-al-Din. Columbia University Press, 1971.

Cleaves, Francis Woodman. "The Mongolian Names and Terms in the History of the Nation of the Archers by Grigor of Akanc". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, volume 12, 1936, pages 400-443.

Cleaves, Francis Woodman, translator. Secret History of the Mongols, volume I. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1982.

Grombech, Kaare and Krueger, John R. An Introduction to Classical (Literary) Mongolian. Hubert & Co., Gottingen, Wiesbaden, 1955.

Macpherson, Catriona. "The Mongols". Compleat Anachronist #54, March 1991.

Moses, Larry. "Naming Patterns Among the Mongols". Mongolian Studies, page 26-34.

Mysliwy, Marta-as tu Mika. "Mongolian Naming Practices". KWHS Proceedings, Ansteorra, 1990.

Poppe, Nicholas. Mongolian Language Handbook. Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington, DC, 1970.