Mongolia: What’s in a name?

The following list of names, which recently appeared in Harper’s, caught my eye because I’ve come across similar names in my own travels in Mongolia. “Khunbish”, for example, which means “not human”, was once a popular given name, since it was thought the evil spirits would ignore a baby if they didn’t know it was human. Mongolians are so superstitious about making babies seem unattractive the spirit world that it’s actually polite to say “yamar muuhai huuhedrel” when you see an infant. Translated, this literally means: “What an ugly baby!”


From a list of historical clans compiled by the head of the Mongolian State Library to assist Mongo

Posted by | Comments (5)  | January 25, 2005
Category: General

5 Responses to “Mongolia: What’s in a name?”

  1. Tom Davis Says:


    Interesting that you bring up Mongolia–I’ve just been reading “Tuva or Bust.” I mentioned it to George because its about the physicist Richard Feynman and his ten-year attempt to travel to Tunnes Tuva in Mongolia during the last decade of Communist Russia. Have you read it? I told your dad I’d pass it on when I’m done.



  2. justin Says:

    Zazgar, huh. Good name for a cat.

  3. Jerry Says:

    I thought the Showkhnar were from France.

    (Baast, on my mother’s side)

  4. Clive Barker Says:

    Have just returned from driving From England to Mongolia and back through Siberia
    See website > siberia 2004

  5. boldsaikhan Says:

    very close about the names.
    I’m a Mongolian.

    To those who left comments, Zazgar is very cute word which is usually for spoiled goat kids or lambs. Because the spoiled small animal’s belly becomes bit bigger, as they always eat and drink something from their caregivers.

    I never heard this as a name for people. Instead, some older people kindly or friendly swear their close relative-younger boy, who is doing something unsatisfactory behavior. However, those boys should look like hairy or big headed (hair is not straight long, but looks like curly and foamy as Africans’ hair).

    Shovkhnar is also Mongolian word which has no any relation or origin from another language. It forms from two words shovkh (very sharp cone shaped things, like very sharp peak of rocky mountains, or tip of something sticks); nar (plural meaning like English s).