Kate Monk's Onomastikon

(Dictionary of Names)

Burma (Myanmar)

Capital : Rangoon (Yangon)

Chin, Dacca (Dhaka), Irrawaddy, Kachin, Kayah, Shan

Size: 262 000 sq m Popn: 43 668 000


The Burmese came from the area where China and Tibet meet and arrived in AD 638, the year from which their era is dated. They formed a state in the centre of the plain at Pagan by 850 and from 1044-1287, held a hegemony over most of the area. Ye-su Timur, grandson of Kubilai Khan, destroyed the Pagan dynasty and occupied the region in 1287, leaving anarchy after his withdrawal. The Toungoo dynasty held power, with increasing difficulty, from about 1490 to 1750. Alaungpaya reunited the country in 1752 and founded Rangoon as his capital. His descendants lost the coastal strip from Chittagong to Cape Negrais to the British in 1824-6. The second Burmese War of 1852 led to the British annexation of Lower Burma, including Rangoon. The last Burmese king, Thibaw, set off the third Burmese War in 1886 and the British seized Upper Burma, uniting the country as a province of India. In 1937, it was made a crown colony with some self-government.

In 1942, it was occupied by Japan under a government of anti-British nationalists, led by Aung San and U Nu, who later founded the Anti-Fascist People's Freedeom League (AFPFL). Burma was liberated in 1945, gaining full independence outside the Commonwealth in 1948 and Prime Minister U Nu established a parliamentary democracy. The civil war between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), communist guerrillas and ethnic group separatists weakened the republic and divisions within the AFPFL led to the formation of an emergency caretaker government under General Ne Win. There was a military coup in 1962 and the parliamentary system was abolished, with Ne Win becoming head of a revolutionary council and establishing a strong one-party state. A neutralist isolationist foreign policy was adopted and followed the 'Burmese Way towards Socialism' which was founded on state ownership of commercial industry and strict price control. Internal opposition by armed separatist groups continued and the economy deteriorated. The Burmese Communist Party, which had Chinese funding, took control of parts of the north, the KNLA the southeast and the Kachin Independence Army the northeast.

Ne Win became president in 1974 when a new constitution was adopted and the military leaders became civilian rulers. In 1975, the non-communist ethnic groups joined to form the broad National Democratic Front with the aim of forming a federal union. Worsening economic conditions led to food riots in 1974 and 1976. Ne Win stepped down as president in 1981 and was replaced by U San Yu, but remained leader of the ruling party. A wave of student demonstrations broke out in Rangoon in 1987, followed by workers' riots in spring 1988. At first, they were violently suppressed, killing hundreds, but in mid-1988, San Yu, Ne Win and the new president, Brig-Gen Sein Lwin, were forced to resign after the killing 0f 3000 unarmed demonstrators. A mass pro-democracy movement swept the nation and the more reformist Maung Maung became president, promising free multiparty elections.

General Saw Maung staged a military coup in September, imposed martial and transferred power to a 19-member state law and order council, with Ne Win remaining in control behind the scenes. The country's name was changed to Myanamar in 1989. The new regime was more liberal economically and officially legalized political parties although it put popular leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of Aung San, under house arrest. They were prevented from standing in the elections of May 1990, but the opposition parties won an overwhelming victory. The military remained in power and Dr Sein Win formed a 'parellel government in December, supported by ethnic rebel forces but denounced by most of the main opposition force. The socialist party of U Nu, who remained under house arrest, was made illegal in 1991 and serious human rights abuses continued. The ruling junta stage military offensives against the Karens and moved 750,000 troops to Arakan state in the south-west to try to put down a Muslim pro-independence movement. This drove 50,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees into Bangladesh, and after a further military crackdown on Karen rebels in early 1992, as many as 60,000 more Muslims fled.

Suu-Kyi was given the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1991 and the West imposed sanctions against Myanmar, although the Association of South East Asian Nations followed a more positive policy. Saw Maung stepped down in April 1992 and was succeeded by former defence minister, Than Shwe, but the real power in the junta was said to rest with Khin Nyunt, head of military intelligence, and Ne Win. U Nu and several other political prisoners were released in the same month but not Suu-Kyi, who was alleged to be held in circumstances that could endanger her life. The government ended martial law in September, keeping tight control over political activity. Human right abuses continued and the Western sanctions remained in force.

Burmese Names

Burmese only have a given name without an inherited surname. It is polite to add the prefix 'U' which is equivalent to 'Mister'. A Burmese given name often indicates which day of the week a person was born. For instance, 'A', the last letter of the Burmese alphabet, is used for the names of people born on a Sunday. Those born on Monday to Saturday use names beginning with the first five letters of the alphabet.

Name Elements

Aung - successful

Hla - handsome or beautiful

Myint - high

San - lovely


Aung-Hla Aung-San Aun-San
Ba-Maw Bohmu-Aung Daw
Hla-Thein Hock-Aun Hwae
Khin-Aung Khin-Nyunt Khun-Sa
Kin-Oung Kwan-Kywa Kwei
Ma Thida Maung-Gyi Maung-Maung
Maung-Win Min-Tun Ne-Win
Ohn-Myint Saw Bau Gyi Saw-Maung
Sein Lwin Sein-Win Tchin
Tha Hla Than-Htay Than-Shwe
The Thet-Naung Tin
Tun-Aung U-Nu U-San-Nu


Kin-Kin Myint-San Suu-Kyi

This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.

Copies may be made for personal use only.

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