Many western Buddhists have non-western names:

  • Jeffrey Block - Bhikkhu Bodhi
  • Geoffrey DeGraff - Thanissaro Bhikkhu or Ajaan Geoff
  • Deirdre Blomfield-Brown - Pema Chödrön

Are they given to them when they are ordained as monks/bhikkuni (like Dances with Wolves), or are they more informal (e.g. Ajaan Geoff)?

Just curious.


3 Answers 3


Where do westerners get their “Buddhist” names?

In the Theravada tradition a novice receives a new name in Pali when a senior monk accepts his/her request to become Preceptor.

For more information see "Ordination Procedure in the Theravada Tradition".


The same is true for Mahayana traditions (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dharma_name) allthough exceptions are possible. So for example the German Mr. Nölke, since many years abbot Muhô in Antaiji, Japan, got the freedom by his predecessor to choose his own dharma name, which he then officially "received". Justification: as one could not choose its own name at birth, at least the choosing of the dharma name should or can be in our own hands.


What amazes me is that people's "Buddhist" names all seem to be Asian. :-)

People 'get' their name from a guru, which is a form of initiation into that particular tradition, and so the new name is almost always related to the root culture from which that tradition sprung. The new name is a psychological device to provide a sense of belonging to that tradition, and pride is encouraged around it, since you have to meet approval to receive it.

There is really no reason your "buddhist name" needs to be from a particular culture. unless it is useful to you as a tool to walk The Path. If you need that sense of belonging, then its a wonderful thing.

But "naming" isn't a "Buddhist" thing. It is a traditional cultural thing that was brought along for the ride as a useful tool.

  • good point, Western monks being ordained in the West could as well receive westernized new names, on the other hand the host of names is usually supplied by tradition and the Buddhist tradition for Theravada has been Indic, there's been nobody with a western name to call a new monk after, and the first one to do that will have to break with the tradition which is a painful and normally objectionable thing to do and therefore is not very likely to be undertaken Oct 6, 2016 at 18:46
  • Which looks suspiciously like Attachment :-)
    – T. B.
    Oct 10, 2016 at 18:55
  • not necessarily, a fear to offend or stir controversy could be a deterrent, you may be aware of the reaction Ven Brahmavamso provoked in his Thai Nikaya with his bhikkhuni ordination Oct 10, 2016 at 19:08
  • I understand the functional difficulties with organizations that people are trying to avoid.. I am just saying, it is still attachment, but it is being branded as "useful' to The Dharma (Dhamma). Which is fine with me. We are human beings. But we should be clear eyed about what we are doing and why. Offense is irrelevant, and in fact might be the "most compassionate" thing to do in that moment, however that truth is being weighed against a perceived "greater good" that is served by keeping organizations intact over time, and reaching more people.
    – T. B.
    Oct 10, 2016 at 19:15

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