people have only one name
. It is given to them at birth and doesn't change for marriage: Well-known Burmese people include: Thant, Ne Win
, and Aung San Suu Kyi
The name may be of one or more syllables; it is usually two. A longer name may be abbreviated among close friends. So Aung San Suu Kyi may be called Suu Kyi by her intimates, but this is not a separable part of her name: even though she was named after her father Aung San, that part is not a surname, nor is Suu Kyi a forename. Her one and only name is Aung San Suu Kyi.
It is possible among close friends to use the name by itself, but almost always a title is used. The title of respect is U for males and Daw for females. So former UN Secretary-General Thant is always referred to as U Thant, and you often see "Daw Aung San Suu Kyi".
(As far as I understand this, the alternative you sometimes see in English-language reports, "Daw Suu Kyi", is therefore nonsensical. Maybe this is an affectionate-yet-respectful title actually used within Myanmar, but by asking on a Burmese expatriate list I confirmed that it was wrong.)
As it's a title, U isn't used with other titles: so General Ne Win, General Aung San, Brigadier Tin Oo; likewise with Doctor. However, Teacher apparently has a male form shaya and a female form shayamadaw.
For a younger person or a close friend (a kind of tu form, I suppose) you use Ma for females and Maung for males; and there is a form Ko for use among equal males. The female equivalent of that is Daw or Mama.
The most interesting thing about Burmese names is that you can tell what day someone was born on. The Burmese alphabet is allocated -- presumably for astrological reasons, but I'm guessing -- to the seven days:
My source for this extraordinary system is the Lonely Planet
phrasebook, a remarkably good guide to the language. (We linguists rather turn up our noses at most such tourist guides.) However, their list is incomplete: the sounds hm hn hng hny hl c ch dh j
are missing; some of which I could guess because of the way they're written in Burmese (e.g. c
= k + y
as in Kyi, kyat
). But the principle is interesting even if I can't explain it fully. And I have no idea why Wednesday
So Ne Win and former prime minister U Nu were both born on a Saturday, independence hero Aung San was born on a Sunday, and... well I'm afraid Aung San Suu Kyi goes by the S of Suu Kyi here so was born on a Tuesday. It still doesn't make it her forename.