The Buddha's first name was Gotama—Gotama Ādicca the Sakyan?

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.
With mettā

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Interesting argument! I’m not an expert on these matters, so I can’t really evaluate it, but it makes sense to me.

Pali blurs the line between “name” and “epithet” more than English, so it’s entirely possible that siddhattha began as an epithet (“one who has achieved his goal”) and was taken as a personal name.

I wonder if there are other examples of this in ancient times?

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The only case I know of in the Pāḷi is the feminine version of the name Gotamī. I’ll have to try and do some digging and see if something comes up.

We know that the Buddha’s family members’ names are, at times, inconsistent in the suttas. Maybe the attribution of the name Gotamī to his (step)mother was just the feminization of the Buddha’s first name Gotama. An interesting plot-twist! But not one I am at all qualified to back up as of right now.

Mettā

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Yes, it could be. It’s common to have forms like Nandamātā, perhaps Gautamī should be read as a taddhita construction in the sense “of Gotama” (i.e. mother of Gotama)? Like say “O’Connor”.

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That’s interesting. It definitely could be, yeah.

I found a reference to a śramaṇa named Gautama in a somewhat early? Jain text here. I really do not know enough about Jainism and their texts to say much, and I don’t know if Gautama is being used as a first name there. It is being used, though.

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I don’t really know either, though…

If Gotama wasn’t the family name, why was the Buddha called Angirasa…?

https://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/ay/angirasa.htm

Gotama is an Angirasa sub-clan…there are other possible explanations, but I think this is the more obvious one. The explanation referenced at
Thomas: Life and Legend of the Buddha, p.22-3 may also be informative.

I couldn’t track down a reference right now unfortunately, but sometimes Suddhodhana is also called Gotama.

A more traditional explanation for the appearance of the name Gotama was that the family might have taken it from their priests.

It is unclear.

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This has been discussed as being a post-Ashokan phenomenon. It was not practiced in the time of the Buddha or even the centuries right after his demise. Additionally, the Sakyans of the Buddha’s day did not have brahmin priests—they weren’t Brahminical peoples.

I’ll have to pull the source. I had it open, and now I’ve lost it and can’t find it. I’ll edit this in once I find it!

Edit:

You raise an interesting point about Angirasa though. This is something to look into. This is a much less common epithet nonetheless, so it’s much more possible it is late and coming from a time where Gotama was being perceived to be of Brahminical origin (as opposed to the Buddha having a brahminical gotra that contradicts his gotta being Ādicca). I really don’t know though, and am no expert. Going to see what comes up.

Alternative to the reverse engineered Gotamī, some characters from the Mahabharata from roughly around the time of the Buddha are named after their mothers, as is Sāriputta of course.

Mettā

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I also don’t know that much, but the Prakrit text is here:

https://gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/gretil/2_prakrt/uttaraju.htm

You can find it by searching goyam, which is apparently the Prakrit spelling of gotam.

Presumably Kesi is a first name? Which would support the argument.

And by the way, I really don’t know this passage, but I have to admit, lacking any context it really sounds like they’re talking about the Buddha here, making him a disciple of the Jains.

tassa logapadīvassa | āsi sīse mahāyase /
bhagavaṃ goyame nāmaṃ | vijjācaraṇapārae ||6||
bārasaṃgaviū buddhe | sīsasaṃghasamāule /
gāmāṇugāmaṃ rīyante | se vi sāvatthim āgae

And there was a famous disciple of this Light of the World, the venerable Gautama by name, who had completely mastered the sciences and right conduct. (6)
He knew the twelve Aṅgas, was enlightened, and was surrounded by a crowd of disciples; wandering from village to village he too arrived in Srâvastî. (7)

The whole dialogue sounds extremely Buddhist. I mean,

‘Is there a shelter, a refuge, a firm ground for the beings carried away by the great flood of water? do you know the island, O Gautama?’ (65)

“There is a large, great island in the midst of water, which is not inundated by the great flood of water.” (66)

si said to Gautama, ‘What do you call this island?’ To these words of Kêsi Gautama made the following reply: (67)

“The flood is old age and death, which carry away living beings; Law is the island, the firm ground, the refuge, the most excellent shelter.”

Are they just … quoting the Parayanavagga?

https://suttacentral.net/snp5.11/en/sujato?layout=plain&reference=none&notes=none&highlight=true&script=latin

Hmm. Again, I just don’t have enough context to really grok any of this, but I wonder to what extent such things are simply markers of prestige, like the Czars and Kaisers derive their name from Caesar?

It’s be interesting to find that.


On Gotama/Gautamī, is it normal for women of the clan to take the feminized form of the family name?

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This has been suggested by Alexander Wynne before. (PDF) Who was the Buddha? | Alexander Wynne - Academia.edu

But he also notes that in DN14 the Buddha says “Gotama is my clan.”


And in AN8.4 (and elsewhere) Ananda is called Gotama too.

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From the same article on the priest gotra names I cited in response to @Suvira , the author says the following about DN 14:

Source: Here

This does not disqualify DN 14. It’s only tangential and pointing to later developments. But it does seem to be part of a later narrative in a tradition of building the history of Buddhism back for more legendary prestige perhaps, and it is in a very Brahmin-oriented collection of suttas.

Is this the wrong sutta? I’m not seeing that in there

Mettā

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Sorry it is SN8.4 instead

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Ah. To be honest, that looks like some verses have been copied over on accident that were originally addressed to the Buddha. This sharing of verses is quite common throughout the suttas, as we know, and it is not at all unusual that they at times appear a little out of place or come from elsewhere and were slotted in. Not sure why Ven. Vaṅgīsa would ask Ven. Ānanda such a question either lol.

Mettā

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If so, we also can assume that this wasnt done randomly, that the composers were aware what they were doing, and therefore they must have thought Gotama was also Anandas name. And they were in a better position to judge than us.

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Well, in a recent discussion on the Godhika Sutta, we see Māra praising the Buddha for his wisdom and warning the Buddha that one of his disciples is planning on committing suicide, and the Buddha then tells Māra that “this is how the wise act.” Really? The wise commit suicide because they are detached? Māra then sings a song in verse in praise of Godhika. Māra. And it turns out that some of these verses are found elsewhere in the Sutta Nipāta.

They cannot always be trusted. Accidents happen. Maybe the setting to Ānanda is a mistake. Maybe it isn’t. But I wouldn’t be convinced that this is solid ground to stand on. I suppose the redactors knew better, knowing that Māra actually cared for the disciples of the Buddha and loved praising the Buddha for his wisdom? Of course not. It’s almost certainly an accidental misplacement of verse and later composition, perhaps mixed narrative material. Who knows.

Mettā

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Ok, found it…the last Gotama in Thag10.1 is often held to be Suddhodhana (which makes sense to me).

https://suttacentral.net/thag10.1/en/sujato?layout=sidebyside&reference=none&notes=none&highlight=true&script=latin

Edit: it makes sense to me because the verse is quite obviously addressed to Suddhodhana.

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Of course the suttas arent perfect. But it’s one thing to “make up” a narrative to make a doctrinal point for which the author had a certain motivation. It’s another to mix up names, for which there is no reason other than honestly thinking this was correct.

It’d be interesting to know what Ven Dhammika’s ideas are on the Buddha’s name.

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I was looking at this sutta—it’s an interesting one. It seems that the Buddha’s mother is called both Māyā and Gotamī in the same one? Gotamī is typically understood to be his step-mother. The verses on “again and again” are found in the Saṁyutta Nikāya as well.

This is a case where Gotama is used for Suddhodana though, I’d agree. Definitely good to consider!

Mettā

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I saw that too, but I assumed Gotamī was Mahapajapati? But it does beg the question, why is Maya never called Gotami?

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No, I agree. I don’t think people tended to make things up. As I said, it seems much more accidental or coincidental.

Mettā

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Yeah, that’s what I assumed as well. The narrative definitely seems to be equating Maya with the name Gotamī though. It could be a potential mistake or inconsistency? I’m not really sure. Perhaps the name Mahapajapati Gotamī itself is more a compound/composite like we said. The family names tend to be inconsistent as you’ve pointed out.

Mettā

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