“Gotama” was probably the clan of the Sakyan family priest

There has been some discussion about the name Gotama, and how a Brahmanical clan name became associated with a khattiya family. It has been proposed that Gotama was a personal rather than clan name.

However, not just the Buddha, but his step-mother, and Ānanda are called Gotama; decisively, even the assembled Sakyans are addressed by the Buddha as “Gotamas” (gotamā) at SN 35:243:2.8. This rules out the “personal name” thesis.

No-one seems surprised that the Buddha’s clan name was Gotama. In fact it was common for khattiyans to be referred to by brahmanical priestly names. The Mallians, khattiya members of the Vajji league, are referred to as Vāseṭṭhas (dn16:5.19.2, dn33:1.4.5). Several people are referred to as Aggivessana (Aciravata at mn125:2.4, Saccaka at mn35:4.2 and mn36:5.1, and Dīghanakha at mn74:2.5) and while their caste is not explicitly stated it is likely they were khattiyas.

It was pointed out long ago by Chalmers that the “Aggivessanas” were so-called after their brahmanical family priest. This custom is discussed as part of the Pravara ceremony in the Aitareya Brahmana 7.25, of which you can see a translation here and the Sanskrit text here.

tasmāt tasya purohitasyārṣeyeṇa dīkṣām āvedayeyuḥ
Therefore they proclaim him as an initiate with the family priest’s lineage

It seems that when a khattiya was initiated, he was temporarily made into a brahmin when he covered himself with a black goatskin, and his status as a khattiya was restored at the end of the rite. But his family would continue to use the name of the priest as a kind of honorary clan name.

Chalmers’ conclusion was endorsed by Malalasekera in his Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, where he notes under Aggivessana:

Probably the name of a brahmin clan, the Agnivesyāyanas, and the Ksatriyas who were so styled, took the name from their brahmin purohitas

Yogendra Mishra (An Early History of Vaishali, pg. 110) notes that the Licchavis are called Vāseṭṭhas in the Jain literature, and says:

We know from the Aitareya Brahmana that the gotra or pravara of a Ksatriya is the same as that of his Purohita or family priest, who makes him perform the sacrifices. The Vāsiṣṭha gotra was therefore the gotra of their family priest, and we know that the Vāsiṣṭhas were the family priests of the kings of the solar race, especially that of the Ikṣvākus.

The latter statement is interesting, for the Buddha was of the the Ikṣvākus, yet his family priest was Gotama, which suggests the above rule was not universal.

The Buddha is also commonly referred to in devotional verse as Aṅgīrasa, which is the name of one of the ancient Brahmanical rishis (an5.195:3.3, thag21.1:44.3, thag10.1:10.1, dn32:3.14, sn8.11:3.3, sn3.12:11.3).

Malalasekera says that:

Gotama and Angiras are both enumerated in the Pravara ceremony as the ancestors of the Gotama clan

The Pravara ceremony is the same initiation as referred to above. Here’s the Sanskrit.

gotamānām.āṅgirasa.āyāsya.gautama.iti./.ucathyānām.āṅgirasa.aucathya.gautama.iti./.rahūgaṇānām.āṅgirasa.rāhūgaṇya.gautama.iti./ (pravara: Aṅgirases) (AsvSS_12.11-1a)
soma.rājakīnām.āṅgirasa.sauma.rājya.gautama.iti./.vāmadevānām.āṅgirasa.vāmadevya.gautama.iti./.bṛhadukthānām.āṅgirasa.bārhaduktha.gautama.iti./.pṛṣadaśvānām.āṅgirasa.pārṣadaśva.vairūpa.iti./ (pravara: Aṅgirases) (AsvSS_12.11-1b)

Thus it was an accepted custom for khattiyas to be referred to by the name of their Brahmanical family priest. Gotama, Aggivessana, and Vāseṭṭha are all used in this way. There are surely other examples, but this is enough to establish that this is a normal usage and requires no special explanation in the case of the Buddha.


Could you for the convieniance of relatively unintiated folks like me sketch the Buddha’s clan, family, personal and honorary names and how they relate? Simple example. He was the Great Bodhisattva from the prediction by Dipamkara until enlightened and then designated The Buddha. Thanks

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I appreciate the need, but that sounds like far from a simple job! Let me give a few details, without delving into details of past lives.

His family name is Sakya, which is the national name of the ruling clan of his home country. They were khattiyas, the ruling class of “aristocrats” who owned land and were warriors; they were natives to the area. The Sakyans, like the Vajjis, Mallas, and others, were an aristocratic republic, voting for temporary rules (rājā) among the leading families, and discussing business in town halls. The Sakyans traced a royal heritage to the legendary Okkāka (Ikṣvāku), who founded the so-called “solar” lineage of kings (there is also a “lunar” lineage). It is because of this that the Buddha is sometimes called “kinsman of the sun” (ādiccabandhu).

As discussed above, he is commonly called Gotama after the lineage of the brahmin priest of the family. What this means is that as the brahmins spread across India, one of their chief tasks was to ally with the local kings and provide legitimization for kingship via their rituals and traditions. There were different Brahmanical lineages according to the specifics of how the rituals were performed and the texts transmitted, and these are sometimes raced back to the ancient seers (rishi) who originated the lineage; such are Vāseṭṭha and Aṅgīrasa as mentioned above.

His personal name is not found in the early texts, but late canonical texts such as the Buddhavaṁsa and Apadānas call him Siddhattha.

As for epithets, he is mostly referred to by disciples as bhagavā (“Blessed One”), and is addressed with the honorific bhante (or its more formal version, bhadante). He often referred to himself as tathāgata (“Realized One”). Other epithets are so various it would be a long task to gather them!


Thanks! Americans of the “nuclear family” upbringing of the 1950s feel strangers in such nested contexts. I now no longer like Gotama so much and maybe prefer Siddhartha, the Sakya Muni. Yet maybe too this is a string of titles and not a “name”… like how one buddy would hail him across a noisy tavern!

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Hi Bhante,

This is true of the occurrence in Thag 17.3 for Ānanda, correct?

Bahussuto cittakathī,
buddhassa paricārako;
Pannabhāro visaññutto,
seyyaṁ kappeti gotamo.

Khīṇāsavo visaññutto,
saṅgātīto sunibbuto;
Dhāreti antimaṁ dehaṁ,

Yasmiṁ patiṭṭhitā dhammā,
Nibbānagamane magge,
soyaṁ tiṭṭhati gotamo.

Gotama is learned, a brilliant speaker,
the attendant to the Buddha.
With burden put down, detached,
Gotama made his bed.

Defilements ended, detached,
he has got over clinging and become quenched.
He bears his final body,
having gone beyond birth and death.”

“Gotama stands firm
on the path that leads to quenching,
where the teachings of the Buddha,
the kinsman of the Sun, are grounded.”

-Thag 17.3


Yes, that’s right. I’m sure there are plenty of other examples too.


Bhante, do you know if this lunar/solar categorisation has anything to do with the way time (and sowing / harvesting seasons) was tracked? I.e the solar rulers introduced a calendar more aligned with the solar cycles and therefore actual constancy of seasons?


No I don’t, but that sounds like a very plausible idea. The thing with mythology, it doesn’t just “happen”, it has to serve some purpose that actually helps people in some way. It would be great to see some research on the history of Indian calendars!

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If the Buddha had a strong Brahmanical connection, it brings up an interesting question. My understanding is that Sanskrit was a written language even at the time of the Buddha, and Pali was not. We’re the earliest Buddhist texts in Sanskrit? Is there strong evidence one way or another on this?

No, there is no recorded writing at the time. The earliest strongly attested writing is in Magadhi and a variety of dialects at the time of Ashoka, about 150 years after the Buddha. I believe that we do not find written Sanskrit until half a millennium later.

For the record, I think writing did exist in the time of the Buddha but was not used for sacred texts.

No. Buddhist texts were translated from Pali or something like Pali (“Prakrit”) to Sanskrit .

Reasonably strong, yes. The internal evidence of the Buddhist Sanskrit texts bear clear signs of their Prakritic heritage. For example in verses, which due to their metre are harder to adapt than prose, we often find Prakritic forms.

While it is a matter of active debate what the exact language (or more likely languages) of the earliest texts were, no scholars believe they were first in Sanskrit. Nonetheless, we do find certain Sanskritic influences in Pali, such as the word brāhmaṇa, which is a Sanskrit word that has been adopted as-is to Pali without being adapted to normal phonology.


Ancient India people follow clan name and gotra- lineage name …it’s seems like people in Buddha’s time to believe there Lineage started from some sage…today Indians believe there are 7 rishis (sage) from which all gotra started…one of them is gotma.
If we look at the case of Rama… he is named as Surya vanshi ( sun Lineage) , Raghu vanshi ( raghu was his ancestor) , ishwaku clan , ( again ishwaku was his ancestor) Vashishtha gotra ( vashishta was his clan priest also)

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Thanks for clarifying, it is all very complicated for me!

So the Buddha would also be Suriyavamsa lineage, Iksvaku clan, but Gotama gotra.

I didn’t know people could have two lineages. Hmm.

Yes, these ideas were already current in the time of the Buddha.