In the Srimad Bhagavatam and Mahabharata, there seem to be quite a few instances in which people are named according to their qualities or the roles they play in a particular pastime. Daksa, Suruci, Suniti, Duryodhana, for example.
Someone questioned me about why there are such convenient archetypal names and asked if this indicates that the stories could be more allegorical than historical? Can you please enlighten me about this?
Another good example of a self-defining name is Dhrta-rastra, “He who held on to the kingdom.” This is certainly not proof of allegory, since in real life people often take on names according to their qualities and abilities, as with “Prabhupada,” which was not his given name or even initiation name. Royal families also take on special names. And of course, Vyasa is a title, “the editor/divider.” His ‘given names’ were Dvaipayana, because he was “island-born,” or Satyavati-suta [“son of Satyavati”] etc.
In the case of Su Ruchi, she probably liked that name, being proud of her charms. Also, Duryodhana can indicate someone with whom it is difficult to fight. It can be a positive name, and one that might be given to any warrior. And even Dhrtarastra can indicate one who supported the kingdom, kept it going. And in Mahabharata, Dhrtarasta was also the name of earlier personalities, so it is a standard name.
Mahabharata characters are famous for their moral complexity, and this is not a symptom of allegories, which tend to paint characters in single, moral colors. Also, Arjuna is not a self-defining name and he is a leading figure. There are also geographic names, such as Gandhari, Kunti, Kaikeyi, Kausalya, Vaidarbhi, etc. since that was a custom. And there are unlimited matronyms, patronyms, and dynastic names, such as Kaunteya, Pandava, Yadava, Kaurava, etc. There are also self-defining epithets given after, not before, a great deed, such as Dhananjaya or Bhishma.
Conclusion: the topic of shastric names is quite complex and lacks the simplicity and predictability one would expect to find in a true allegory, such as the Bhagavatam‘s famous allegory of Puranjana or allegories found in other cultures.
We also have to keep in mind that ancient Vedic society had:
- Powerful systems of natural genetic engineering through unbroken centuries of carefully arranged marriages;
- Extraordinary powers of prediction through consummate astrology, as well as ‘boon-births’ (i.e. births engineered by brahminical or celestial boons).
These and other factors would give Vedic parents the ability to pre-assign appropriate names to children.