Origins of giving/taking a sangha name at ordination

Dear spiritual friends,

Could anyone tell me when the practice of giving/receiving a new Dhamma/Sangha name at ordination was formalised?

With thanks and mettā.


I believe some of the first disciples of the Buddha received a new name once they gave up their householder statuses, didn’t they?


Hi Gabriel,

Thanks for your reply.

I suppose the best-known examples would be the venerables Maudgalyāyana (/Mogallāna) and Śāriputra (/Sāriputta), formerly Kolita and Upatiṣya (/Upatissa), respectively.

Did the going forth in the Blessed One’s day always involve a name change?


Did the going forth in the Blessed One’s day always involve a name change?

Taking a new name to mark a spiritual conversion, or to mark a new phase of one’s life, is a common feature that is found in many different cultures. Indeed, when Europeans came to North America, they found that the Native Americans had already been doing it there.

The Native Americans had been almost entirely isolated from Eurasia for tens of thousands of years. So… this may be a universal tendency, one that’s deployed somewhat differently from one culture to the next, but that we can expect to find almost anywhere.


Indeed; it’s amazing how many similarities exist between all the myriad rites of passage.

I’m not aware of any evidence that Vens. Sāriputta and Moggallāna were given their names by the Buddha or even changed them at the time of going forth. In the Vinaya where they are first introduced (SuttaCentral) they are referred to with those names right away. I don’t think we ever get a reason they have two names. And “son of Sari” hardly seems like an upgrade in the spiritual sense.

I am aware of only one monk being given a name by the Buddha and reference to that is only found in the Theragata.

Others have more experience with Thai culture, but I once met a young Thai monk who wasn’t even given a Pali name since he was only ordaining temporarily. But the Ordination stuck, and likewise he was stuck with his lay name. :slight_smile: I believe in general in Thailand monks go by their lay name. Hence Ajahn Geoff, Ajahn Dick, etc.

In Sri Lanka, as far as I know, one always gets a new name and the ordination stands as the legal name change. You get a new national ID card and have to change your passport if you have one.


Thank you, Snowbird, for your very thoughtful and informative reply. :pray:

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I think in the case of Sariputta and Moggallana it is more a matter of common usage, formal vs. informal names rather than simply getting a new name.

One reason for it is that in Pali and related languages, since they are so highly inflected, it is awkward to simply drop in a foreign name as required in the ordination ceremony. I’m “Anthony”, so I suppose, ahaṁ antoniyo nāma works well enough. But what of, say, Geoff? There’s no f in Pali, so ahaṁ jeppo nāma? :man_shrugging:

The Pali texts for ordination use an idiom itthannāma, literally “named such-and-such”. This is a placeholder into which the name is to be inserted. I have been told of an ordination in Thailand, where one of the reciters at the ordination tried in vain to convince the other that they had to say the actual name of the ordinand, not literally say itthannāmo bhikkhu. :roll_eyes:

In Sri Lanka, I believe, they conventionally use the names nāga for the candidate and tissa for the preceptor, then just ignore it in practice.

I think it is a good point about initiations and the taking of new names. It would fit with the character of the early Vinaya that it is purely a legal procedure, deliberately excluding such elements. When and how it came to be accepted practice is hard to say, but my guess would be that it was fairly rapidly.

I mean, personally I like it; Anthony feels like a past life.


Thank you, Venerable, for sharing your insights.

The replies in this thread have been helpful and I now have a nice rabbit-hole to disappear down. :pray: