Why is 'Singh' such a common name in Guyana when there are no Sikhs here?
May 29, 2002
Letters on race
There appears to be no shortage of religious historians in Guyana, and my colleagues and I are frequently regaled by their debating in your readers' letters pages. However, I am writing not to join any of these interesting polemics but to ask, as a genuine seeker of knowledge, whether any of these erudite persons could provide the solution to a matter which has long puzzled me.
Throughout Asia, Africa, Europe and North America the surname 'Singh' (more correctly a title, meaning Lion) and for ladies 'Kaur' (Princess) indicates almost infallibly that its owner is of the Sikh faith.
Why is it then that in Guyana and Trinidad (I can't speak for Suriname) Singh is usually regarded as a Hindu name and is in use by males and females alike - even when prefixed by other traditionally Sikh combinations of 'Lal', 'Brij', 'Mohan', 'Bahadur,' etc?
It does not need such a scholar to explain how the name is now commonly in use with biblical forenames (Mike, for example!), but can someone please reveal why Guyana, a land of many Singhs, has so few Sikhs?
'Singh' is a name that is as much North Indian Hindu as it is Sikh. It is generally an upper-caste name (when in non-Sikh usage) and is common among people of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan. 'Kaur', on the other hand, is almost exclusively Sikh. The fact that many Guyanese have the name 'Singh' and are not Sikh is probably due to their origins in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where the surname can still be commonly encountered today. The confusion probably arises from the fact that while almost all Sikh men have 'Singh' in their name, not all North Indian Hindu men do.