Siddhattha Gotama - was it his name?

I have a vague memory that someone said on this forum that the name of the Buddha-to-be was not known.
So what is the origin of the two names Siddhatha and Gotama?

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Drewes in this paper reviews the arguments for a historical Buddha and takes an admittedly very critical stand - but refreshing to me. In it he summarizes and relates the position regarding Buddha’s name:

Though we often hear that the Buddha was Siddhārtha Gautama of the Śākya clan, the name Siddhārtha (and its variants, Sarvārthasiddha, etc.) is not attested in any early source. We do not, for example, find it used as a name for the Buddha anywhere in the Pali canon.


…Gautama, which is not so much a name as an epithet identifying the Buddha as being associated with the Gautama gotra, one of eight ancient Brahmanical gotras, or lineages, which traced their origin to the mythical seven ṛṣis. Though it is often presented as the Buddha’s surname, the term has a broader application than Śākya. All the Śākyas in Buddhist texts are Gautamas, and many others besides. Central figures in other Indian traditions, including the Upaniṣadic sage Yājñavalkya; Indrabhūti, said to have been Mahāvīra’s chief disciple; and the traditional founder of the Nyāya darśana, are also identified as Gautamas.

Honestly, this is just ridiculous. He starts out by saying:

On one hand, the Buddha is universally agreed to have lived but, on the other, more than two centuries of scholarship have failed to establish anything about him.

I mean really. Nothing? This hyper-sceptical approach is not real scholarship, it is just postmodernism eating its own tail. For decades it has contributed nothing but the erosion and degradation of the field, and a calamitous collapse in basic truthiness.

Except a basic search reveals around 100 instances of Siddhattha used as a name for the Buddha in the Pali canon.


So Bhante, could we say that in regards to the topic’s question it is clear he was called Siddhattha Gotama by those around him who were not his disciples? What are the variants?

Well, I didn’t say that: I said the name is used a hundred times in the Pali canon.

As to the question itself, it is not a topic I have looked into, so I would be hesitant to offer an opinion. In White Bones Red Rot Black Snakes I pointed out that there are very many different names for several of the Buddha’s family members, especially his wife. That there should be some uncertainty regarding the exact form of the name is not improbable, and it is true that it’s not attested in the early strata of the Pali canon. But if we are going to learn something, we have to begin with a sympathy to our topic and a respect for facts.


I want to share some strange thing in our family.
My mother never allowed us to call my brothers and sisters in their real names.
We all have a nick name. Even our friends call us in our nick name.
For some reason my mother thought calling my brothers and sister in the real name is disrespectful.
Now I think this is bizarre.
Perhaps monks did not want to call Buddha in his pre-enlightenment name.


This is a good point, taboo regarding names is an extremely widespread phenomenon. Obviously the Buddha was normally referred to with a title or by clan name, and it is no real surprise that his personal name should be obscure.

Who knows my personal name? Or, for that matter, yours: I just know your handle.

One of the problems of this sort of scholarship is that it drives in an ideologically determined direction: it wants to say that we know so little about the Buddha, we don’t even know the first thing, his name. But his personal name is far from the first thing to know about him, and there is no particular reason why he, or those around him, should have thought it important.

That there is a blurred line between epithets and personal names is a common feature of the Pali texts, and if the point is to understand this better, it is a valid line of inquiry. But that’s not the real point. The point is to undermine the field, as if there was something clever about being able to point out problems with 2500 year old religious texts.


Actually, I do not know the full name of all my brothers and sisters.
You might think this bizarre too.
But I do not want to tell the whole story as it amounts to divulge too much of my personal information in the net.


Totally agree.

To me, there is a sad and unnecessary element of malice in this biased intellectualism that picks things out of context - i.e. the absence of a clear reference for full name in a cultural context in which full names were used in a completely different way - just to push for a hidden agenda of total and hyper scepticism.

Is this a case in which Socratic questioning is no more than a waste of time?


May I still point out that the name ‘Siddhattha’, by itself or as a name for the Buddha, does indeed not appear in the four Nikayas.

To take a hyper-critical position is well in the possibilities and duties of scholarly research, which is to think the thinkable, taking into account the available facts. To ignore or misrepresent facts would be a different matter.

The article is good in showing the history of what westeners believed the Buddha to be (the seventh incarnation of Buddhas, a myth, a fact, etc). I think it’s important to keep in mind that whatever the current scholarly environment is, it is embedded in a history of ideas and convictions.

As practitioners we don’t want to erode our base of faith, but we can hardly expect the scientific community to support our agenda.

So as for the original question, according to the first four Nikayas:

  • no, ‘Siddhattha’ was not used for the Buddha
  • ‘Gotama’ 100s of times, but we don’t expect this to mean that this was the name he was born with. He was called this way and it clearly identified him in the EBT - which is what a name should do

Is that right?


Regarding the Khudakka, also there Siddhattha is not everywhere - notably Dhammapada, Sutta Nipata, Thera-/Therigata, Udana, etc. don’t use it.

We find it in the Apadana (86x), and the Buddhavamsa (10x). Both books belong supposedly to the latest part of the KN.

Then Milindapanha (1x), Jataka (1x)


A)Why is this important? I can understand this sort of question is relevant to Christianity. If Jesus did not exist the whole Christianity fall apart.
b)Who is going to benefit from having an answer to this question?

For Buddhist, it is not relevant whether Buddha exists or not. What we have is Dhamma. Dhamma is not the monopoly of the Buddha (whoever he/she is). He discovered it.
What really matters to a Buddhist is whether we can attain the goal with existing Dhamma.


You can ask @alaber. He had an EBT related question and this is the answer. @sujato mentioned that Siddhattha is mentioned 100 times in the canon, and I merely provide a specification.


Whenever I read of some ‘scholar’ that takes a position that runs counter to what is generally accepted in the field, or takes exception to a position held by more learned and prominent scholars, I am interested in that person’s background and bias. In other words, are they just “poking bears” in order to raise their own profile, sell a book, or to otherwise make a name for themsleves in a crowded field of scholarship?

David Drews has made available this paper , which is updated through 2017. I found it curious that with Vens. Sujato and Brahmali’s Authenticity project and paper available, he did not reference this work, which, to me, provides the research and forensics that establishes to a reasonable (high) degree of certainty the historicity of the Buddha. Others like Prof. Gombrich, a man of integrity and lengthy scholarship in the field, accept the historicity of the Buddha.

Prof. Drews cites as points of authority in his paper 19th and 20th century scholars, many of whom have positions eclipsed by better and more authoritative research. Perhaps that is Drews’ defense: that he bases his opinions only as relative to the credibility of poor sources. He seems not to seek out and evaluate credible and scholarly resources, given that his paper is current as of 2017.

His own students like his class. No doubt he is charming and persuasive. Yet, some reviews note that his grading largely depends on whether the student agrees with his positions: “Only downside to Drewes is that he isn’t always open to other opinions in his field–as long as you write his opinions on tests you’ll do great!” “The lectures can be very boring, and it is hard to pay attention. For tests and assignments, it is important to argue his opinion rather than yours.”

Drews may just be another young academic trying to make a name for himself.

I’d be interested to see if Drews ever has the cojones one day to take on The Autheticity of the Early Budhhist Texts. My guess is that he’ll never touch it. As some of his students suggest, he’s happiest when he’s listening to his own voice.


If I ever heard my students say that, I would be horrified. Luckily, we don’t do grades!

When I see these denialist papers, it seems to me like a fever dream has gripped the academy. It reminds me of Julian Jaynes’ critique of behaviorism in The Origin of Consciousness:

… behaviorism charged out into the intellectual arena with the snorting assertion that consciousness is nothing at all. What a startling doctrine! But the really surprising thing is that, starting off almost as a flying whim, it grew into a movement that occupied center stage in psychology from about 1920 to 1960. … From the outside, this revolt against consciousness seemed to storm the ancient citadels of human thought and set its arrogant banners up in one university after another. But having once been a part of its major school, I confess it was not really what it seemed. Off the printed page, behaviorism was only a refusal to talk about consciousness. Nobody really believed he was not conscious. And there was a very real hypocrisy abroad, as those interested in its problems were forcibly excluded from academic psychology, as text after text tried to smother the unwanted problem from student view. … the paper theories of behaviorists are mere subterfuges to avoid the material we are talking about.


Although there’s a little (if we don’t want to say nothing) biographical information found in the EBTs, there’s a recent archeological evidence found can be a historical prove of the Buddha:


See also:

The earliest Buddhist shrine: excavating the birthplace of the Buddha, Lumbini (Nepal)


It is interesting to contrast Buddhism with Jainism in this discussion. It appears name Siddhattha is common in those days as the names such as David and John are common in now day

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Yes, naming is the first point in discrimination. (Mana)
By naming we apart from the rest of the world. Oneness of the world disappears.
Naming is the first weapon invented by men to control the mass.
Then they invented the date of birth to control the mass.
Now they use the finger prints and tax file numbers to control the mass.
By naming we first time lost our independence and privacy.

According to systems theory - and one could interpret the paticcasam. in a similar way - language invented men :slight_smile: