Rawàng Ata naming conventions

Wow. Two months. Whoops.

Anyway, one thing I’ve been playing with is having another go at lessons for Rawàng Ata. Along the way I thought I’d put in some cultural notes… but I think my first one may have gotten a little out of hand. So, I’m posting it here.

(So if you’re wondering about the strange and slightly patronising tone now and then, and the references to having been introduced to someone, that’s because it’s taken from a teach-yourself-ish-type thing.)

Well, here it is. How people are named in Là society.



Là naming customs are somewhat complex. A Là name has three key elements: a family name, a personal name, and a ‘matronymic’. The exact nature of the name depends heavily on social class.

The family name is simple. For an aristocrat, it has up to three elements: a clan name, a sept name, and a house name. If the house is head of the sept, there is no house name; if the sept is head of the clan, there is no sept name; if the house is the head of the sept and the sept is head of the clan, there is only the clan name. Thus, the fewer the names, the higher the rank.

For gentry – feudally bound to noble houses – the principle is the same, but after the one, two or three names of their liege’s family, they insert their own house name. There may be chains of feudal bondage – a noble house may have bonded gentry who themselves are rich and powerful and have their own bonded gentry, and so on. In this case, all people ultimately bound to the same noble house take that house’s name, the house name of their own immediate feudal masters, and their own house name. It is most common therefore for gentry to have four or five family names.

For serfs, the principle is the same as for gentry, except that serfs do not have houses in a legal sense, so take no house name of their own. They therefore share the family name of their immediate masters.

For freeborn individuals – those who are not feudally bound, but also lack a clan, sept, or house (in practice almost all foreigners and country folk), there is simply no family name.

A number of other individuals will also lack a conventional family name, instead using the name of an institution, such as a temple, a ship, or a brothel. These are typically orphans, though can include those who have left their families by choice, and in the case of temples those who have been donated by their families to the institution (in practice, some of the ‘orphans’ working in cheap brothels or on poor ships will also have been sold by their families, though the practice is highly illegal).

The girl we are introduced to in this chapter is from a noble family. Her family name is Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran. From this, we can deduce that her clan are the Kakusi, her sept are the Namaluatàng, and her house is Damàsingāran. From this part of her name alone, we cannot tell whether she is a noblewoman, or a gentry woman whose house is directly bonded to the head house of the Namaluatàng sept, or whose house is bonded to a superior gentry family itself bonded to the head house of the entire Kakusi clan… or whether she is a serf bonded to any of the above.


The personal name also varies, with gender as well as with class. For aristocratic women, the name has two parts; the first is one of five names indicating the order of birth within that generation in the house (the names cycle back after the fifth daughter); the second is one of thirteen names indicating the day of the ritual week on which the girl was born. There are therefore only sixty-five names shared among all noble women (in practice, there are one or two dialectical differences, but these dialectical names are not seen as distinct, and are translated to the standard form in formal contexts).

For noble boys, the system is reversed, and the birth order name reflects not the order of their own birth, but the birth order of their eldest younger sister (or, more accurately, their birth name is one on from that of their youngest elder sister).

Taking our friend as an example: Surūn-Aydèn was the third or eighth (or thirteenth or eighteenth, etc) daughter born in her family, and she was born on the ninth day of the week. As it happens, she was the eighth daughter. She also has a number of older brothers. Her immediately elder sister (youngest elder sister) is named Lòmalu-Kolbàn, as she was born on the fourth day of the week. Lòmalu-Kolbàn has a slightly younger twin brother, who is accordingly named Kolbàn-Surūn – born on the fourth day, with his youngest elder sister named Lòmalu.

The exception to this very regular system comes with the names of the sixth daughter – rather than being given the normal birth order name (which would make her look like heir to the house), she is instead given the replacement birth order name Longyàng, literally ‘return’ or ‘recurrence’.

This naming system continues among the gentry with few disruptions. Among serfs and the freeborn, however, it changes – there, daughters and sons both receive constructed names that share the first syllable of the ‘correct’ name they should have been given. Some of these names are purely fanciful; some of them are words; most often, the remaining syllables reflect their parentage. Aymaykol, for instance, was born on the ninth day (ay-), and has apparently been named for men (perhaps a parent, or grandparents, or deceased aunts, uncles or siblings) born on the tenth (may-) and fourth (-kol) days. It is worth noting that although these names are only official for serfs and freeborn, it is common for noble or gentry boys to take on these lowborn styles as nickname. Surūn-Aydèn’s elder brother, Kolbàn-Surūn, accordingly often goes by Kolkanar – a pun of sorts, as he (or a friend) has extended the first syllable of his true name, kol-, into kolka, the word for a pulley, indicating his physical strength and enthusiasm for work, while the third syllable is the first syllable of his (supposed) father’s name.

It is not unknown even for women to adopt these nicknames – but it is rare, as such practices are seen as not only specifically ‘macho’ but also frankly rather silly in general (it is also difficult for a woman to aquire one, as they are usually constructed among a man’s circle of friends, and young women are not so gregarious).

Unusual names are also found among those with institutional families, where their ‘true’ birth name is often unknown, or has been rejected. These individuals may be named in some structured manner by their institution (sometimes mimicking normal names, sometimes deliberately exotic), or by whimsy by their surrogate parents, or by themselves. Most are nonsense syllables, although it’s not unknown to find such individuals with ordinary words for names – the names of animals are particularly common.

Finally, many individuals have matronymics. In the literal sense, the matronymic is the name of the individual’s mother. They are invariably appended to the names of serfs, as formal names, and may informally be used within large families to disambiguate between cousins. Also falling within this category, however, are the names attached to the names of kanua and kunyi women adopted into new families, and the names of husbands marrying into a family. All these individuals adopt the family name of their new family – but typically append their original house name to their personal name. House-orphans – orphans and serf children raised in a noble or gentry house as half-siblings to, and servants for, the children of the house – will take the matronymic baryōngyàn, ‘of the house’, though where their mothers are known they may, with the permission of the masters, use their true matronymic appended to this.

Two more elements often appear in names: honorifics and generation names. Honorifics mark the individual out as notable, and there were historically a range of honorifics showing religious or military or political achievement. Most of these have since died out, but a small number remain, of which by far the most important is Luang, the marker of a free individual. This is born by all nobles, and can in theory also be used by the freeborn, though this is only commonly done in certain areas. The honorific precedes the name.

Generation names are universal among noble and gentry families, and have become common even among serfs. There are a range of generation names, but the important feature is that within each house there are only two, which are used to show an alternation in female generations – grandmothers share their generation name with granddaughters, but not with daughters or great-granddaughters. Sons, meanwhile, inherit the generation name of their mothers. This system is designed to insure – in a social system with relatively few restrictions on carnal activities – that men do not have carnal relations with both a mother and her daughter, in order to prevent accidental incest, and that women do not have relations with either half-brothers or parallel maternal cousins. Once a man has had relations with one individual within a family, he may only have further relations with individuals sharing the same generation name, and any violation of this is treated legally and morally as incest. These family-specific generation names have become ‘synchronised’ across the whole of noble society, creating two moieties – carnal relations are only permissable within each moiety, not between them. If a man and a woman have different moieties, for example, this implies that the man’s mother had the same moiety as the woman’s mother – thus, they both shared the same pool of eligible lovers, so incest is a possibility (and likewise, the system prohibits relations between parallel cousins on the mother’s side). It is not the case that the same generation name identifies the same moiety in all cases – indeed, sometimes they are reversed, while at other times unrelated names are used – so sufficiently ‘distant’ families will be unable to calculate moiety, but this distance is itself generally enough to avoid incest. Among families connected by marriage or friendship or living near to one another, the generational names combined with recent family records will enable moiety to be calculated. This system is less important among serfs, where monogamy is more strictly enforced. The generational names are placed after the family name and before the personal name. In the case of Aydèn, her generational name is Abī, meaning simply ‘sour’, but as she is young it appears in the diminutive form, Abīyin (were she very young, it would be Abīlèk, a sure indicator to any prospective suitors that she was too young to pursue).

We now have enough information to understand the outline of some names. To begin with, the girl we’ve been introduced to:

Luang Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Abīyin Surūn-Aydèn

Her sister (actually half-sister or possibly only cousin):

Luang Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Abīyin Lòmalu-Kolbàn

And Lòmalu-Kolbàn’s twin brother:

Luang Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Abīyin Kolbàn-Surūn

Surūn-Aydèn’s mother:

Luang Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Najī Motu-Nartua

Lòmalu-Kolbàn’s mother:

Luang Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Najī Surūn-Okulòn

And the name of one of the husbands of these two women (who Kolbàn-Surūn believes to be his father):

Luang Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Najī Nartua-Surūn Tajungutangyàn

But he was born:

Luang Soitōra Faliatarungaràng Tajungutàng Talutàlek Nartua-Surūn

An orphan boy raised as a house-servant by the family:

Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Abīyin Okunarku Baryōngyàn

The matriarch of a gentry family bonded to Aydèn’s family:

Bèna Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Sajitān Abī Arā-Okulòn

And a husband of the daughter of the matriarch of a lesser gentry family bonded to the family of Bèna Okulòn:

Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Sajitān Tufalumòn Najī Maykèn-Motu Nakolumasūliyàng


Of course, the formal name of an individual may not be what they are most commonly called. Regarding practical names, we can identify seven levels of formality. On the most formal level, the entire full name is used – this occurs only in formal introductions, and in certain highly ceremonial situations. Formal written records also typically use this ‘long form name’. More common – but still highly formal – is a ‘short form name’: for most individuals this is their personal name alone (along with any title), but for nobles their house name is added before the personal name, and for noble matriarchs the short form name is only their clan name followed by their house name.

Less formal – suited for casual use in a formal setting, or formal use in a casual setting (eg initial introductions) is the ‘greeting name’: title, generation name, and personal name. Even less formal is the ‘plain name’: title, followed by the second element of the personal name. This is what most people will refer to the individual as, most of the time. More intimate is the ‘inner name’: the generation name, the first element of the personal name, followed by a matronymic. This is the individual’s official name within their own household. However, both for personalisation and for disambiguation in large households, many individuals also have a sixth, ‘calling name’; this may be a serf-style name in the case of males (and occasionally females), a deformation of their inner name (particularly a diminutive or augmentative), a matronymic, or an out-and-out nickname related to their appearance or behaviour – or a combination of these. Finally, the seventh, ‘bed’ name is a nickname given to an individual by their intimates – it is typically given by their first ‘official’ lover (defined in a slightly complicated way) and kept for life, though some individuals may choose to be re-named later, and others may simply lie about what name they were given. This name is theoretically a frank but affectionate reflection of the true inner nature of the individual – but in practice is most often a fairly generic and saccherine cliché, and in truth the entire tradition exists more in theory and in romantic tall tales than as an organised reality… to the extent that bed names are used, they are as likely to have been invented by the individual as given.

Taking Luang Aydèn as a concrete example, her name is registered on official records as:

           Luang Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Abīyin Surūn-Aydèn

In formal situations, she is most likely to be known as:

Damàsingāran Abīyin Surūn-Aydèn

This, however, sounds quite stuffy, so in most situations it is sufficiently polite to refer to her as:

             Luang Abīyin Surūn-Aydèn

And once she has been introduced, and assuming an informal context, she can be called simply:

              Luang Aydèn

In the Damàsingāran household, however, she is known as:

             Abīyin Surūn Motuyàn (Surūn daughter of Motu)

But her family informally address her as:

Surūnyòli (a diminutive form)



Hope that was understandable, and at least vaguely interesting…


One thought on “Rawàng Ata naming conventions

  1. Irina says:

    Not only vaguely interesting, but extremely interesting! Makes me think I should revise the piece I wrote (and only published in a print zine with a circulation of 70) about Valdyan naming customs, now I know more about the surrounding cultures.

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