The question of the Buddha’s name has remained a somewhat puzzling one. Gotama is a Brahmin gotra, and the Buddha wasn’t a brahmin, nor was his family. His people were not even majority Vedic/Brahminical. Not only that, but as in the above sutta, the Buddha explicitly says that his clan name (gotta in Pāḷi, a term more flexible than the modern term ‘gotra’ used only for Brahminical clan names) is Ādicca. He is also frequently called Ādiccabandhu—kinsman of the Sun, or of Ādicca. This is the known Sakyan aristocratic clan name, believed to come from the legendary King Okkāka originally. Koṇḍañña is another khattiya gotta that seems to have existed among the Sakyans and is recognized by the commentaries as well.
So what’s the deal? Why does the Buddha go by “the ascetic Gotama” consistently throughout the early strata of suttas if his clan name is not—and really cannot be—‘Gotama’?
Well, we tend to be told that people went by their gottas, not their first names. We can take a look at some of the Buddha’s main disciples: Mahākaccāna, Mahāmoggallāna, Mahākassapa, etc. However, these are brahmins. The addition of “mahā” is to distinguish them from other brahmins who also go by their gotta. What about the Sakyans, more representative of the Buddha’s context?
Ānanda is a first name, and he is believed to be related to the Buddha. So too is Nanda, another cousin. Anuruddha appears to be a first name as well, as does Upāli. Mahānāma is a common Sakyan name in the suttas, and also seems to be a first name, as does potentially Bhaddiya?
If we look at the Buddha’s previous teachers, he refers to them as Āḷāra Kālāma—Āḷāra the Kālāma (a non-Brahminical tribe, so far as we know)—and Uddaka Rāmaputta, whose last name is a reference to his (grand)father, or some spiritual teacher perhaps. We cannot be sure of their caste necessarily, but at least Āḷāra Kālāma seems to almost certainly not be a brahmin. Uddaka Rāmaputta does seem to perhaps be a brahmin.
Is it perhaps a custom of the Sakyans, a non-Vedic group with their own sense of identity and cultural customs, tended to go by first-names, or at least first-name equivalent epithets? We know that the Buddha, at times, would reject being in any caste. Perhaps, in addition to this non-Vedic custom of going by a more personal name, he preferred to just go by “the ascetic Gotama”—at least prior to his awakening. This may have just been his first name, or a first name.
Gotama / Gautam is indeed a first name as well; it is not just a gotra. The idea that it is a first name is definitely possible then. Moreover, the Buddha’s (step)mother is said to be named Gotamī—the feminine version of the name Gotama. This first name still exists in India as Gautami, as do names like Anand. So Gotama is a first name, and it’s the name of the person who raised the Buddha. The Buddha’s family members in the Saṅgha went by first names, and some of the non-brahmin contemplatives or non-Buddhists in the suttas also appear to go by more personal epithets.
Quickly, the name Siddhattha/Siddhartha does not appear in the early strata of suttas or literature. Etymologically, it also appears to be a compound word. It’s highly unlikely the Buddha went by this, and much more likely that, as the name Gotama was eventually misconstrued to be referring to a Brahminical gotra—part of the evolving Brahminzation of the Buddha’s life-story and history—a first name was needed.
I would argue, though, that Gotama was the Buddha’s first name. It may not have been his personal birth-name as a child. That we can probably never know. But it certainly appears to be a first-name equivalent that he went by, similar to his Sakyan companions. He was Gotama the Sakyan of the Ādicca clan. This makes sense, and it makes a lot more sense than the alternative that all of the texts, including early verse, metre, dialogue with other faiths and ascetics, etc. invented / edited over the name “Gotama” onto things which never truly pertained to the Buddha. No; I think he must have used / been known by this name, but it was not his gotta.
Let me know your thoughts, feedback, or related findings.