Was the Buddha's personal name “Aṅgīrasa”?

We have previously discussed at some length the problematic question of the Buddha’s personal name. The problem arises because names and epithets are rather promiscuously mixed and it is not always clear which is which.

After considerable discussion:

I concluded that Gotama was the lineage of the Sakyan family priest.

That leaves his personal name to be determined. Tradition says it was Siddhattha, but this name only appears in later texts. It could easily have arisen as an epithet (“one who has achieved his goal”).

DN 32:3.14 lists the names of the past Buddhas, and for “our” Buddha’s personal name it has Aṅgīrasa. This is also a Brahmanical clan name, in fact the ancestor of the Gotamas. It is mentioned in this sense in the suttas, but apart from this it is found in reference to the Buddha specifically and no-one else (thag10.1:10.1, sn3.12:11.3, sn8.11:3.3, thag21.1:44.3). The contexts are typically poetic and invoked the “shining” aspect of Aṅgīrasa, which is related to agni “fire”.

It seems possible that Aṅgīrasa was the Buddha’s personal name, not just a descriptive epithet. It would be quite appropriate for him to have been named after the hallowed ancestor of the lineage. Thus he would be Aṅgīrasa Sakya of the Gotama lineage, known as Siddhattha.


I think Angirasa is the pravaras. A clan (gotra) also has a pravaras (like an extra system of identifying). For the Gautama gotra there are these pravaras: Angiras, Āyāsya, Gautama


Right, it is. But it seems to be used as a personal name. I don’t think there is any reason the pravara should not also be a personal name? It’s not used for anyone else.


It may be a rather superficial, even coincidental, association, but this just brought to mind Professor Gombrich’s theory of fire as being the central metaphor which ties together the Buddha’s teaching.

Just a thought.


Do we know of this occurring anywhere outside of Pali sources? The direct parallels don’t use this epithet for the Buddha. SA and SA2 have parallel verses, but they say “Sakyamuni” or “Tathagata” instead. I’m beginning to wonder if Theravadins, or maybe Mahisasakas before them, were particularly influenced by the Vedic tradition. I just noticed today how in DN 14 it’s Brahma and not the Suddhavasa gods who remind Vipassi’s disciples to return for the Patimokkha recitation. Another translation of the story (T3) doesn’t specify which it is. It’s just a god in the sky. Truthfully, I wouldn’t get too excited about these types of sectarian details of proper names and plot devices. They seem really arbitrary after comparing them broadly. Over and over again, they disagree quite a bit.


I’d say the initial question to ask is whether the concept of “personal name” is anything that would reasonably coincide with concepts of appellations in ancient Magadha - personally, I believe the answer is “No”! Thus also, distinguishing what is an epithet and what is a personal name might actually be a misleading endeavor. It’s mostly during our modern period that the globalized-culture (rather than just ‘western’) scholars and public decided things such as that this was a name, that was a surname, and that an epithet. A good example is how the kings, authors, teachers of yore had, clearly, apellations rather comprising one unit consisting of several nouns strung in a compound. The same names are nowadays treated as “personal name” (“middle name”) “surname”. Say something like Narendradattavarman will be re-interpretted today as Narendar Dutt Varma, or whatever. Secondly, we have somehow made a concensus there is a god called, say Shiva, or Vishnu, in the “Hindu religion” and both have many other names and/or epithets, such as Bhairava, Kailasanatha/Narayana, Murari, etc. Yet , those labels were mostly synonymous, he was all of those (I mean each of the two was and is all those who are represented by those other names). I’m probably not talking straight to the point, but you might get what I am hinting at. Nowadays, South Asians have passports and identity papers that make our naming conventions and mental conceptions about them be more or less similar. But they certainly weren’t then. I am a Sanskritist, not a Pali scholar, but as far as I know, Pali, as other MIA, cannot have a long vowel in a closed syllable. This means, this form Angiirasa could be also interpreted as the equivalent of a Skt patronymic from Angiras, which in Skt would be Aangirasah. Generally we don’t interpret patronymics as “personal names”, do we? But as I say, I do not believe there existed such distinction. (And if it did, it would not matter that much, after all, as people tended to address others by various appellations including the patronymics, or for that matter “matronymics”, such as Kaunteya - son of Kunti - for the personage who is the recipient of Bhagavadgita preaching, and whom we decided to call primarily Arjuna as his “first name”. A further complication, as regards South Asian traditions, even nowadays, of names-“handling” is the habit of not making the “real personal name” (the name given after birth by parents or a religious specialist sought by them) secret. Thus, even still at the turn of this century I learnt the “real name” of a close friend in Calcutta after she passed her marriage announcement to me. (Had she sent it by post, I’d have hard time to identify who was that, only with the help of the “surname”) So a person would be named, say Tapovrata, but since early childhood addressed by all as, e.g., “Mintu” or “Tuntuni”, as far as the Bengali habit still(?) goes. So those are some side remarks trying to complicate the notion that asking “Was X a personal name of the Buddha (or any Y)” is a valid/answerable question. Are we asking what his parents and friends called him, when they played? Are we asking what his wives and courtesans called him? (Hardly by the same name - until today wives generally refrain from addressing their husband by name, in the Hindu tradition, at least) Are we asking what he called himself when he introduced himself coming to a host in a distant district? (He might have just said he was a Shakya) Are we asking what names he was given by his various spritiual teachers while practicing their sadhanas? All of these would most likely be different “personal” names. And quite possibly, anyone in that period might struggle to understand what are we trying to figure out when we ask about his name, as something distinct from other forms of address, such as titles, epithets, nicks (or even abuses?) with which he used to be addressed with, or referred to.


Not sure, I haven’t researched it.


It could be, or maybe the Chinese translations elided such culturally specific references? Do you know if there is any research on this point?

Sure, but until the comparative work is done we can’t say what is sectarian.

This is a good point and context. Indeed, the notion of “personal name” is different.

If I could reframe it, “Is there a name that refers unambiguously to “our” Buddha in the same way that Vipassi, Konagamana, etc. refer to past Buddhas?” My main point is that most Buddhists would say this is Siddhattha or Gotama, but the Pali texts suggest it may be Angirasa.

Yes, that’s correct, it’s a patrynomic.

Probably not, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t be. A patrynomic just means “descendant of so-and-so”, and it is common to name someone after an ancestor.

Did you mean, “making the real personal name secret”? In any case, yes there are ancient taboos against this, which over time become watered down to conventions. We know that the early tradition avoided making images of the Buddha, and it would be expected that the personal name was avoided too.

But if the question is reframed as per above, that problem goes away.


No, not off hand. I think it definitely would be an interesting project for someone to do. For the most part, I’ve only looked at individual passages or sutra parallels instead of the big picture. There could be some larger patterns to discover. I did notice one of the occurrences of this name in Pali was at the end of the taming the naga story in the Skandhaka. At some point, I’ll poke around and see what the other Vinayas say. I’ve been looking at Skandhaka parallels re: the stories in the Ekottarika Agama.


Regarding your suggestion that the “Mahisakas” may have emphasized the Brahmanical connections, one data point in support of this is the discussion in sn35.132, where Mahākaccāna encounters some brahmins in Avanti. Of course there are brahmin encounters all over, so it’s hard to establish a pattern.


Both Gautama (patronymic /descendant of the Vedic Ṛṣi Gotama i.e. born in his family/gotra) & Āṅgirasa (patronymic /descendant of the Vedic Ṛṣi Aṅgiras i.e. born in his family/gotra) are patronymics & serve as brahmin family names. Every brahmin in the clan of the Ṛṣi Gotama would automatically also be an Āṅgirasa (as the Vedic Ṛṣi Gotama was himself a descendant of the Vedic Ṛṣi Aṅgiras but established his own clan having personally seen 7 generations of his own lineage i.e. ancestors/descendants and thereby becoming eligible to establish his own gotra). Similarly the Bhāradvājas are another gotra (descendants of the Vedic Ṛṣi Bharadvāja), and Bharadvāja himself was also a descendant of the Vedic Ṛṣi Aṅgiras - thus all Bhāradvājas are also ipso-facto Āṅgirasas.

Each gotra is exogamous so no Gautama-gotra man would normally marry a Gautama-gotra woman (by marriage the wife moves into the husband’s gotra). So the Buddha’s family would all be gautamas (just as he himself was, his mother becoming a gautamī i.e. wife of a gautama by marriage) but not everyone in the Buddha’s place of birth would be from the same gotra as that would have made marriage impossible and the need for gotra names meaningless. The claim of belonging to Āditya-gotra (or claiming oneself to be a kinsman of the sun i.e. āditya-bandhu) is simply a boast - a boast that the Ṛṣi Yājñavalkya also used from time to time to refer to himself as āditya-bandhu (and the Śukla Yajurveda tradition says Yājñavalkya, who is regarded as that tradition’s progenitor, got the veda from the sun himself). Yājñavalkya was a brahmin from Kosala as well, as recorded in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (a text whose last part forms the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad). There were Gautama families (i.e. belonging to the gotra of the ancient Ṛṣi Gotama) living in Kosala in the time of Yājñavalkya. The brahmin Pauṣkarasādi (called Pokkharasāti in the Pāli canon) was an Aupamanyava (a descendant of Upamanyu, who belonged to the Gautama gotra) and Pauṣkarasādi was himself a Gautama. He may have supported the historical Buddha (a Gautama) perceiving him as his close/distant kinsman.

I believe (based on the name of the Kapilasuttam in the Sutta Nipāta, which is also alternatively titled dhammacariyasuttam) that the Buddha was originally named Kapila (and his birth place got retrospectively named Kapila or Kapila-vāstu (i.e. Kapila’s home) after him. Kapila (being variant name of Kapilavāstu) is found in the Nettippakaraṇa (“kapilaṃ nāma nagaraṃ suvibhattaṃ mahāpathaṃ”) and in the Therāpādāna (anukampiya sakyānaṃ upesi kapilavhayaṃ). He may not have been elsewhere called by his proper name in the canon as it was considered rude back then to refer to one’s teacher by their given name, so he is normally called bhagavān by his disciples and by his gotra name by others.


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Thanks for this detailed explanation, it is all gradually becoming clear to me.

It seems less clear in the case of the Sakyans, but certainly for the Mallas they are referred to collectively as Vāseṭṭhā, so it would seem that all of the Mallas, or at least all the prominent families in that town, had the same gotra. Perhaps this simply means they would marry outside of their village?

Thanks for this, I hadn’t researched this point yet. He is called Upamaññu at mn99:10.3. There doesn’t seem to be much early reference to this lineage. Vaṃśa-Brāhmaṇa 1.18–19 notes a lineage member from Kamboja (eastern Persia). Another of the same lineage, Prācīnaśāla, is said to worship the divinity limitedly in the heavens only (Chāndogya Upaniṣad 5.11.1).

I’m wondering where you get the connection with the Gautamas? I can’t find that.

I’m also wondering if you know of any further information about Pokkharasāti at all? He was pivotal in the Pali canon, but I have only been able to hunt down a couple of details for him, namely that his opinions on allowable food and on theft were cited in Āpastamba Dharmasūtra and

Worth noting that Pali also has the reading Pokkharasādi, which I have now adopted.

One of the reasons why I thought it might be a personal name (as well as a patrynomic) is because no-one else in Pali is referred to in this way. But I was mistaken, I just noticed that Suriyavaccasa, the beloved of Pancasikha the Gandhabba, is referred to as Angirasi. Again the solar connections.

That’s a stretch! There’s no hint that the name Kapila there is meant to refer to the Buddha, and anyway, why would a sutta with no personal connection be given his personal name? The commentary says the name refers to the bad monk who inspired the talk, and that seems reasonable. In Pj 2 there’s a monk named Kapila whose sad demise from the Dhamma is recounted, and he may well be the subject of the Kapilasutta.

Well, obviously it was named after a Kapila, but the name Kapilavatthu is well-established in the early texts.

Indeed, and it still is in many contexts.

Opamañño in pāli would be Aupamanyavaḥ in Sanskrit (the final -o is a contraction of -avaḥ), and the initial o = Skt. ‘au’. Upamanyu(ḥ) would have to be the ancestor of an Aupamanyava(ḥ). This confusion between the masculine nominative singular ending -o (for -a ending stems) where Sanskrit has -aḥ and a virtually identical ‘o’ in Pāli which is a contraction of ‘ava’ in Sanskrit led to a misinterpretation in Pāli of the word opamañño as being = *aupamanyaḥ therefore leading to a confused instrumental form opamaññena (“brāhmaṇena pokkharasātinā opamaññena subhagavanikena” in MN99) when it should have been opamaññavena (like māṇava → māṇavena). However at another place the declension of a -u ending name’s derivative is correctly identified – “atha kho kāpilavatthavā sakyā yena bhagavā tenupasaṅkamiṃsu”.

He is well known in late-vedic texts dated to the time of the Buddha, such as the Taittirīya-prātiśākhya (a phonological & grammatical text describing the pronounciation & grammatical peculiarities of the Sanskrit dialects used in the Taittirīya-saṃhitā of the Kṛṣṇa-Yajurveda), where some of his opinions on the topic are quoted by name - as he is recognized there to be an authority on Sanskrit grammar)

  1. “vyañjanaparaḥ pauṣkarasāder na pūrvaśca ñakāram”
  2. “prathama-pūrvo hakāraś caturthaṃ tasya sasthānaṃ plākṣi-kauṇḍinya-gautama-pauṣkarasādīnām”
  3. “pr̥ktasvarātparo lo ḍaṃ pauṣkarasādeḥ”
  4. “lavakārapūrvasparśaś ca pauṣkarasādeḥ”
  5. “svāravikramayor dr̥ḍhaprayatnataraḥ pauṣkarasādeḥ”
    The same text also mentions a phonological observation of another scholar named Vālmīki (“pakārapūrvaś ca vālmīkeḥ” - to whom the authorship of the Sanskrit epic Rāmāyaṇa is attributed by tradition.

Writing a century or so later (in the time of the Mauryan emperor Aśoka i.e. in the 3rd century BCE), the grammarian Kātyāyana (while commenting on the grammatical sūtras of Pāṇini) records another grammatical opinion of the scholar Pauṣkarasādi “cayaḥ dvitīyāḥ śari pauṣkarasādeḥ”. Kātyāyana also mentions Aśoka’s regnal title Devānāmpriyaḥ as an exception to one of the sūtras of Pāṇini, and elsewhere calls him a vegetarian king (śaka-pārthivaḥ). Another grammarian Patañjali, writing a century after Kātyāyana (i.e. in the 2nd century BCE, further adds that Pauṣkarasādi was an ācārya, not just a scholar in his own right but a teacher, presumably in the grammatical tradition.

Pauṣkarasādi is also mentioned in the Śāṅkhāyana-Āraṇyaka in connection with his opinions on ṚgVedic ritual.

Going by these references, Pauṣkarasādi must have lived in the late 5th century and/or the early 4th century BCE. His name indicates he was the son of a ‘Puṣkarasad’ (“a person who was settled in Puṣkara” - presumably Puṣkarāvati/Puṣkalāvati, a prominent city in the northwestern Indian province of Gandhāra, mentioned as Peucelaotis in Greek records connected to Alexander’s invasion of Gandhāra around 325 BCE).

Not just Pauṣkarasādi, there are many other names in the early buddhist texts that (by restoration to their Sanskrit equivalents) be traced in coeval Sanskrit texts. Names such as Tārukṣya (Pāli: Tārukkha); Taudeya (Pāli: Todeyya), a name whose grammatical derivation is mentioned by the 4th century BCE grammarian Pāṇini as being from the name of their village Tudī; Jānaśruti (Pāli: Jānussoṇi); etc. Several other names (when restored) are independently verifiable in coeval texts written in Sanskrit.

The commentary invents reasons like these for a huge number of other things, and many of those reasons are not credible (unless they are independently verifiable). So I dont normally rely on Pāli commentarial speculations unless there is independent evidence in support of the same. For example commentary on MN3 says “tudigāmo nāma atthi, tassa adhipatittā todeyyoti saṅkhyaṃ gato” (which is traceable to Pāṇini’s sutra 4.3.94 tūdīśalāturavarmatīkūcavārāt ḍhakchaṇḍhañyakaḥ where the grammatical derivation of the name Taudeya from the name of the Tudī grāma, is explained in detail) - the MN3 commentary is wrong in quoting the name tudi with a short vowel ‘i’, the nominal-derivative suffix eya applies to feminine names, so the name should end with a long vowel ‘ī’.

The Dhammacariya-sutta in question appears to have been originally titled Kapila-suttam, but which was (when it was subsequently noticed to be the personal name that must not be uttered) presumably subsequently renamed to Dhammacariya-suttam (dhammacariya being the first word of the sutta), this change must have happened when the historical Buddha’s personal name was still in living memory - this sutta being a particularly early one, being located in the Sutta Nipata. Due to perhaps being accidentally preserved in another redaction, both names of this sutta happen to have been preserved until today. Very few suttas are preserved with alternative names in this way, and none else that I can remember immediately.

The name Kapila as the name of a place is also found in some non-Buddhist Sanskrit texts, and even in the Buddhacarita of Aśvaghoṣa - “iti narapatiputrajanmavṛddhyā sajanapadaṃ kapilāhvayaṃ puraṃ tat”
Why the city is called Kapilavāstu (home of Kapila) in the early Buddhist texts - rather than Kapila itself (which is independently found attested in the non-EBT texts) may have been to not confuse the name of the city with the name of the Buddha himself, so they may have added the suffix -vāstu to the name to show that the reference was to a place and not to the person of the same name (where the name was a name that would be immediately recognized when heard, and hence liable to confusion). The name Kapilavāstu is not to be met with in any external (non-Buddhist) early texts, but the name Kapila is attested as a place name, so the addition of -vāstu appears to be an innovation internal the authors of the EBT canonization committee.

Can you please cite the place where this is found - as that would be very odd. Malla is the name of a janapada (country). There may have been Mallas residing in a particular place within the Malla janapada who were known to the Buddha because they may have previously introduced themselves to the Buddha when they earlier attended a discourse - and who would have self-introduced themselves to him on arrival by mentioning their gotra names via the customary abhivādana (traditional self-introduction custom) – as the common refrain goes in hundreds of suttas “…abhivādetvā ekamantaṃ nisīdi…”

So the Buddha may have been made aware of the gotras of a certain previously known-group of Mallas as a result of their prior self-introduction, that wouldnt necessarily lead to the inference that all other Mallas belonged to the Vāsiṣṭha-gotra. It may have simply meant that the Buddha had prior reason to believe that those attending that particular discourse were people from a specific place in the Malla janapada and were known to be Vāsiṣṭhas by prior introduction.


Apologies I was (incorrectly) speaking from my memory. The Aupamanyavas are actually Vāsiṣṭhas not Gautamas.

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That’s a very interesting suggestion Bhante!

Thanks for the explanation. I’ve found that Pali often tends to make mistakes like this. For example, the rishes of the past are referred to be their more familiar patrymomics (eg. Vāseṭṭha) rather than the personal name.

This is all fantastic information, and I will be digesting it as best I can. I am trying to locate the Buddhist texts more specifically in their context, but as a mere dilettante of Brahmanism, I can only make some guesses. I would love to have some help!

Sure. But there is nothing unlikely about naming a sutta after the monk to whom the sutta is directed. No sutta is named after the Buddha’s personal name, and there is precisely nothing to suggest that this is any different.

The Sutta Nipata is not early, this is an oft-repeated misconception. Parts are early, parts are late. This particular sutta has no parallels, and the content strikes me as being somewhat late. The strident tone to get rid of bad monks reminds me of the rigorists of the second council; the Buddha was usually more balanced.

See discussion here. The Sakyans are referred to as Gotamas, the Mallas as Vasetthas, and others as Aggivessanas.

Ok, thanks. :pray:

Okay, so I looked at most of the Taming the Naga stories that I could find. The only one I didn’t have access to is the Tibetan one in their translation of the Mulasarvastivada Vinaya, and it hasn’t been translated yet at 84000.co.

None of the stories in the Vinayas have verses parallel to what we find in the Pali Vinaya, so they don’t mention the name Aṅgīrasa. Most of them have no verse at all, but the later versions in Sanskrit do have them in different ways, indicating that they are added by different authors in each tradition.

However, there is an interesting thing that I noticed. The later versions of the story (i.e., the Mahavastu, Chinese Abhiniskramana, and Mulasarvastivada Vinaya versions) spend some time mentioning Brahmanical fire worship in one way or another and place the naga in a ceremonial fire hut like the Pali version does. The older versions of the story (i.e., the other Chinese translations of the Vinayas) don’t do this. It’s typically a cave or a safe place where the naga is kept because it’s dangerous.

This may be a result of redactors expanding on the theme of the fire vs. fire confrontation between the Buddha and the naga, but it could also be seen as Vedic influence creeping into the story in later eras.

I did find the name Aṅgīrasa in a Vinaya text, however. It occurs in the Sanskrit Saṅghabhedavastu of the Mulasarvastivadins, and probably in other Indic parallels to the story of Iksvaku. The brahmin clan names are involved in Iksvaku’s lineage. You can find the passage in the Gretil’s electronic text at page “A 357b”.

Unless we can find a parallel to these verses outside of Pali, I’d say it’s a later expansion inside the Theravada tradition. My experience thus far is that verses were often added to prose stories later, which can be deduced from a lack correspondence between parallels. I.e., different authors composed them in each tradition. Perhaps someone noticed Aṅgīrasa had a relationship with the ancestors of Suddhodana, one of whom was a king named Gautama, and decided to use it as a epithet of the Buddha since he was also called Gautama. Poets like to do that sort of thing.


Adding to the evidence that the Vinayas are somewhat later than the suttas.


Makes sense. Even within the Pali this is clear.


Generally speaking I’ve found the Pali to usually be at least as old as the other Vinayas, but it seems as if this narrative was subject to expansion.

Right, it looks like a streamlined account of the lineages to emphasize the Buddha’s association: Surya, Gotama, Angirasa, Ikshvaku. The Brahmanical texts are typically much longer and maddeningly complex. So even though it doesn’t explicitly identify the Buddha with Angirasa, it assumes the reader knows this.

Maybe, yes. That would make sense if the Buddhas were first listed withe “our” Buddha just saying “me”, then later filling it out with the name Angirasa.

Anyway, interesting context, thanks!