Researching Mongol Names in the SCA

by Luigi Kapaj (in the SCA: Gülügjab Tangghudai)



This article will address issues relating to researching names used in the Society for Creative Anachronisms [SCA] period of pre-1600 c.e. for Mongolian personae. It will focus specifically on how to conduct research into names in the Mongol language for a persona in the Empire of Chinggis Khaan from the late 12th century to the late 14th century [referred to hereafter as “Chinggisid period” or simply “period”] which, for reference, coincides with Golden Horde rule over Russia, the Il Khanate of the Middle East, and the Yuan dynasty in China. This narrow time frame is chosen specifically to address the majority of interest in Mongol history in the SCA and to avoid a more lengthy discussion of linguistic changes outside that period.

Works to date

This is an attempt to advance the knowledge of Mongol naming in the SCA, and it owes credit to preceding articles in SCA publications for laying important groundwork in this field. As the function of this is not only to add to the body of knowledge, but also an attempt to correct previous errors, a brief review of the earlier articles is in order.


The article Mongolian Naming Practices, by Marta as tu Mika-Mysliwy, is ground breaking. It is not, however, an indelible source on Mongol names. In her own words, “I figured that back in 1990, when I first compiled my names list (for the Known World Heraldic Symposium in Ansteorra), something was better than nothing.” (Mika-Mysliwy) There are a few problems which should be cleared up. The article puts forth an idea that “Period Mongolian names consist of two words” (Mika-Mysliwy) This is inconsistent with the majority of period examples provided at the end of the text. Most examples are of one word names. The article doesn’t take into account Mongol Grammar – in fact, it specifically tries to help the reader avoid it – which can lead to problems when creating an original Mongol name. It does cover many of the basic principles behind the structure of a given name.

The names list is extensive, but follows the pattern of Paul Kahn in trying to anglicize the names. This unfortunately ignores some elements specific to Mongol grammar such as the distinction between front and back of the mouth sounds. One smaller detail is the incorrect defining of koko to mean “everlasting.” Möngke means “eternal,” and the possible confusion could be from the name “Höhö Möngke Tngri” (Eternal Blue Sky) which is an important deity in Mongol Shamanism. Note the reverse order of the adjectives. In discussing a modified noun, a feature of Mongol grammar is overlooked. What is meant is a single word that is conjugated in some way rather than having an adjective added. Temür (iron) can have a suffix to alter its meaning into forms like Temüjin and Temülün which are distinct enough to name siblings. This functions similarly to how suffixes and prefixes in English can alter the meaning of a word, except that Mongol only uses suffixes, where English would use suffixes, prefixes and prepositions.

The article incorrectly claims the traditional script used since the early 13th century is known as Phags Pa. Phags Pa is a script developed from Tibetan script in the time of Khubilai Khaan and ceased being used at the end of the Yuan dynasty. The traditional Mongol Script is a very different alphabet adopted from the Uighurs and is still in use today.

This article also spends some space on the issues of epithets and titles. It does not clearly differentiate the two as it lists words like khatun as both, and specifically puts baghatur as an epithet where in most sources regard it as a title. This is a complicated and not thoroughly resolved issue that will be covered below.

This article raises the issue of transliteration, but stumbles on the complexity of the subject. What the article misses is that there are many distinct letters and sounds in Mongol for which there is no direct Latin equivalent. In discussing substitutions, it misses all diacritics which are critical to meaning, such as in stating “-ch- for -c-” where it should be noted that the ‘c’ by itself is not a Mongol letter. Mongol has a letter for ‘Ch’ and a letter for ‘S’, and here it should have had ‘č’ here which is another method to transliterate ‘Ch’.

The article is still very useful, with much accurate information not covered elsewhere including here, but there is more information out there, and different ways to interpret Mika-Mysliwy’s positions.


On the Documentation and Construction of Period Mongolian Names by Baras-aghur Naran represents a significant step forward, though the casual reader could misinterpret a few items that are quite clear to those familiar with the subject matter. “Turkic” represents a linguistic branch of the Altaic family which includes the languages Khazakh, Uighur, Tatar, and Turkish – the latter being the language spoken in modern Turkey. Turkic is also used to describe an ethnic group related to Mongol, generally coinciding with Turkic speakers. The index of names provided by Cleaves is only complete relative to the book The Secret History of The Mongols. It is by no means an exhaustive list of period names and no name should be dismissed solely on its absence from this index. Such histories of the Mongol Empire only list people of note and do not represent a thorough form of cataloging names in a tribe or region. Indeed such an exhaustive list of period Mongol names will probably never exist. The modern dialect is known as Khalkha (pronounced more at Halh) not Khalkhan which is a possessive form.

Aside from these minor issues, the article falls short on two major points. While pointing out that a vast majority of Mongol names contain a single element, it concludes with an affirmation of the poor advice of the previous article which serves to promote a naming practice requiring multiple elements which is largely not period. The list of suffixes also lacks definitions or some necessary grammatical details such as vowel harmony which allows for incoherent names to be formed.

To the author’s credit, the review of secondary sources is excellent. This is a valuable article and remains significant. One important point raised by this article should be restated as it is too often overlooked. There are several translations of primary sources for names in Chinggisid period available to the casual researcher aside from The Secret History. These include The Successors of Genghis Khan by Rashid al-Din, and The History of the World Conqueror by Juvaini, both translated into English by J. A. Boyle. These secondary sources are just as important as The Secret History.

College of Arms precedents

An issue significant to the registration of Mongol names in the SCA is the set of established precedents by the SCA College of Arms. As such precedents are used to support or refute documentation of submissions, they are effectively documentation and as tertiary sources, they are subject to critical review as with any other claims based on research.


The foremost recurring issue is of contact. The Mongol Yoke extended at its height from Korea to Hungary, from Russia to Persia, and all points in between. The Mongols engaged in social, political, and economic activities, not only across their own territory, but extended to Japan, Java, around south east Asia, and into western Europe. They actively incorporated other nomadic peoples into their society, and made use of the existing bureaucracies of sedentary societies. Indeed, the 13th century was not a dark age of isolation, but rather a time of international relations where the Silk Road trade was in full bloom, China and Persia influenced one another’s art, a traveler could go from Spain to China or Japan, by land or sea, and political relations existed from Mongolia to Italy, France, and England. The Mongols established an advanced communications system, often coinciding with trade routes, which left no portion of their empire isolated. This presents a situation where contact existed on many levels between the many cultures included in the Mongol Yoke, and Europe.

With regard to the administration of the Mongol Empire, David Morgan, in his book The Peoples of Europe: The Mongols, discusses the presence and influence of Uighur and Khitan administrators in the Mongol court. “It is clear enough how pervasive was the influence, above all, of the Uighurs and the Khitans.” (Morgan) Also discussed is the complicated political relationship between the Mongol Empire and Tibet. In slightly later periods, such as the 15th and 16th century, the wide adoption of Tibetan Buddhism among Mongols led to many Tibetan names, including suffixes like -jab, (blessed) becoming common. The height of such interaction in the Chinggisid period includes the Tibetan Phags-pa, who held “the prestigious Chinese title of ti-shih (imperial preceptor)” (Morgan) establishing Mongol infrastructure in Tibet, and inventing a new script that was used for all official documents in the Yuan dynasty in both the Mongol and Chinese languages. Interactions with central Asian cultures in the Mongol court is documented in the European sources. One such source is the travelogue of William of Rubruck where he gave accounts of Iugur (Uighur), Tangut, and Tebet (Tibet) people, “Beyond these are the Tebet ... I saw many misshapen individuals of this people. Of the Tanguts I have seen big men, but swarthy. The Iugurs are of medium size, like us.” (Rubruck) He also discusses many others, including other Europeans such as Germans and a French sculptor in the same Mongol lands.

With this in mind, the precedent on Tibet, and the subsequent returns against other cultures based upon it, seems rather unfounded:

“Significant interaction between Tibet and pre-seventeenth century Western culture has not been demonstrated. The Encyclopædia Britannica dates the first visits to Tibet by Western missionaries to the 17th century, and the fact that the 8th century Tibetan kingdom had some contact with the Arab conquerors of Iran still leaves Tibetans at least two removes from Western Europe” (Gwynek)

This precedent presents a few problems. First is its exclusive basis on a single tertiary source. Other sources describe a significant level of interaction from period. What is more strange is how this precedent is cited for other unrelated cultures. Submissions from Kyrghiz, Korean, and Uighur cultures have been returned citing this precedent. About the only thing these four cultures have directly in common, is the same thing they have in common with Europe: contact through incorporation in the Mongol Empire. Kyrghiz and Uighur are especially difficult to classify differently than the Mongols as these central Asian tribes were incorporated early on during the first expansions of the Empire along with many other tribes such as the Naiman, Merkit, and Tatar. They were, in fact, part of a confederation of the many different tribes that were conquered and incorporated along the way, so at any place the Mongols were encountered so were the many other tribes who fought alongside the Mongols. The fact that these cultures can be categorized so related as to utilize the same precedent in itself implies a contradiction to the stated precedent.

While the Kyrghiz, Uighur and Tibetans were nomadic peoples much like the Mongols, Korea represents a slightly different situation. During period, they possessed one of the major naval powers which traded through the same waters as China and Japan. They suffered a similar fate as the Sung Chinese in being conquered by the Mongols, and subsequently being incorporated into the Mongol military machine, both as foot soldiers and their naval fleet. A further review of Korea’s contact with Europe in the Middle Ages is certainly in order.


The next issue that is addressed in precedents is the use of the word “Horde.” This term is problematic because it has changed meanings over time, experienced wide misuse, and borrowings through several languages. So before going further, a moment needs to be spent on etymology.

The original Mongol term is ordu (also orda in Buryat) and was likely pronounced in the Chinggisid period with an initial ‘H’ sound as a holdover from Ancient Mongolian which serves as a likely source for the English pronunciation. According to Merriam-Webster’s Online dictionary, this word entered the English vernacular in 1555 through Middle French, German, Polish, Ukrainian, Old Russian and Turkic, and states the original Turkic meaning to be “Khan’s Residence.” The etymology shows how the meaning could evolve from “camp” to “a people or tribe of nomadic life,” “any nomadic group,” or even “a teeming crowd.” Period sources such as Rubruck and Juvaini cite many uses of the word in reference to any noble’s encampment, not just the Great Khan. The Mongolian-English Dictionary by Lessing translates the Modern Mongol word ord into the Mongol Script ordu / ordun and gives a few meanings in English including “Residence of a ruler; palace; camp” (Lessing) all of which are consistent with the period examples. Ordun is usually used to specifically mean “palace” in Modern Mongol as with the Palace Museum in Beijing (commonly known as The Forbidden City) referred to as Khaani Ordun (The Khan’s Palace) in Mongolian.

The concept of a household itself is also problematic as it is not a very period one, but rather an invention of the SCA. Households are a reaction to SCA structure so people may choose associations based on factors other than geography. A College of Arms precedent directly relating to this goes:

“Households, as they are generally known in the Society, don't appear to have historical equivalents; they seem to be unique to the SCA. My best definition would be: ‘A household is a non-official group of people who like to do things together in a Society context, to the point where they can be treated as a single unit.’ That definition covers groups of friends, small families, professional guilds (entertainment, brewing, waterbearers, &c), fighting units, and even businesses.

While there were no exact parallels in period to SCA households, there were historical groups that shared one or more functions with the latter. These include the Scots clans (Clan Stewart); ruling dynasties (House of Anjou); professional guilds (Baker's Guild of Augsburg, Worshipful Company of Coopers); military units, including mercenaries (The White Company); and inns (House of the White Hart). Such names as these groups took, then, should be the pattern on which SCA household names are built.” (Draconarius)

There are at least three types of nomadic groups which can fall into this pattern: a clan, a military unit, or an encampment. Ordu specifically refers to the third, though these definitions can easily overlap as both of the first two generally form camps together. Clans and encampments would be named for a prominent person and thus reflect the personal naming patterns. The Secret History lists many folk etymologies of clan names originating from personal names of some founding ancestor. Camps are often referred to by either the name of the ruler or clan to whom it belongs.

Another problem is that the standard form of these names involves a single word, yet the College of Arms requires two parts for registration. A simple way around this is to use a descriptive of the type of group. For a clan, one can use the word obugtan (clan) as in the example from The Secret History: “Jadaran ovogton” (Damdinsüren) which means “The clan of Jadaran” or “The Jadaran clan.” (obugtan is the Middle Mongol form, ovogton is the modern)

Similarly, a camp can be referred to by the name of the person or clan to which it belongs. Period uses are less prevalent, but available none the less. In section 232 of The Secret History, Chinggis Khaan while declaring his guard is quoted as saying, “ordni ger tergiig bas medtuge,” (Damdinsüren) or in English, “let them take care of the tent-carts of the ordo.” (Cleaves) Here he is not using the word ord to refer to his ger (yurt) or palace, he is referring to his encampment and all the gers in it. In Genghis Khan: The History of the World-Conqueror by Juvaini, the Persian historian refers to people coming from “the ordu of Batu Khaan” (Boyle) and even gives a name to one household which is not directly based upon a person’s name. “From Ulugh-Ef, (Great House) which is the ordu of Chingiz-Khan, came other princes.” (Boyle) The translator’s footnotes state this is actually the name of Chaghatai’s ordu and is derived from Turkish ev. (house) The use of the word ordu by Europeans in period also matches the “camp” definition: “So we found Sartach three days from the Etilia, and his ordu seemed to us very big, for he has six wives, and his eldest son who was beside him had two or three, and every one of them had a big dwelling and perhaps two hundred carts. Our guide went to a certain Nestorian, Coiac by name, who is one of the most important men of his ordu.” (Rubruck)

The College of Arms has established a precedent against this, despite included documentation to the contrary:

“No documentation was presented and none was found to show that Mönggülig Ordu 'Silver Horde' is a phrase that would have been used in period Mongol. Metron Ariston explains:

[I]f memory serves, the name Golden Horde on which this is playing was not the Mongols name for themselves but was a descriptive that evolved when they moved to the West and may derived[sic] from the perceived color of their leader's tent. Nonetheless, since Golden Horde apparently was not a Mongol phrase, then one would not think that it would support a Mongol analogue.

Lacking evidence that a name meaning 'Silver Horde' is a reasonable description of a group of people in period Mongol, Mönggülig Ordu is not registerable.

Additionally, no support was found that a word meaning 'Horde' would not be presumptuous as a designator for a household name. The modern normalized terms Mongol Horde and Golden Horde both refer to period groups of people that were the size of a nation. Lacking evidence that a word meaning 'Horde' would be used to refer to a smaller group of people, it is inappropriate for use as a household name. We would not register Duchy of [placename] as a household name because it is an explicit claim of rank by the owner of the household name and, so, violates RfS VI.1 "Names Claiming Rank". Similarly, without documentation supporting use of a word meaning 'Horde' for groups smaller than a nation, use of a word meaning 'Horde' as the designator in a household name is an explicit claim of rank in the same way as Duchy, violating RfS VI.1.” (François la Flamme April 2003)

Right from the beginning, this precedent represents sloppy heraldry. A ruling with such profound documentation as “If memory serves...” should not have made it past the Laurel Sovereign’s desk, let alone into precedents, especially when it is so easily refuted by a standard dictionary.

The description gives two contradictory opinions on the name “Golden Horde”, one claiming it is not a Mongol phrase and another claiming it is a proper name of a country, and therefore presumptuous. To clear up the confusion: “His khanate there is generally known as the Golden Horde, possibly a reference to the Khan’s tent. However, this is a name that was used only later, and by the Russians; in the east the usual term was ‘the Khanate of Qipchaq’,” (Morgan) so the name is not period and any reference to this name, or opinions based upon it, are likewise irrelevant to the issue at hand. “Mongol Horde” is not a normalized or defined term, possibly confused with Ihe Mongol Uls (Mongol Empire) or meant as the Mongol hordes referring the armies of the Mongols which invaded Europe.

Still, since this has been used as a precedent against other submissions, it must be examined further. The comparison of a Horde with a Duchy is flawed as they are not equivalent political structures. A Duchy is so named for the title of the ruler of that land which is a Duke or Duchess. The closest Mongol equivalent is Khaantad (Khanate) which is so named for a ruling Khaan or Khatun. There is no title for ordu.

Furthermore, the reference to the “names claming rank” rule is completely inappropriate to this situation. This is not a personal name including a title of some sort (reserved or not) for which the rule applies. This is a name of a group which naturally comes with some form of leadership and an appropriate title as with any group registered as a household. Any claim of any organization is claiming rank for its head. A Clan has a Chieftain, a Household has a Lord, (Lord is a reserved SCA title), a Ship has a Captain, a Company has a Commander, a Guild has a Master (another reserved SCA title). The “names claiming rank” rule only applies for a personal name, such as a person trying to register “Gülüg Khaan,” not a group. Otherwise, every household submission or any group not an official SCA branch, not just Mongolian ones, should be rejected based on this ruling. If this rule was applied unilaterally to submissions of all cultures fairly, then no one would be allowed to register a household name at all.

While the differences between a Clan, a Tribe, a Territory, and a Country can sometimes be blurry in a nomadic group, the consideration for being presumptuous should be based on scale with a small group on the acceptable end, including a family or clan or any other organization capable living in a single camp, and a Tribal ethnic group, large enough to control a territory, on the less acceptable end as this could overlap with the SCA concept of “official” groups. So presumptuous group names to avoid would be an Aimag or Aiimag, (region – tribal territory, or province) Ughsaatan or Ughsaghatan, (tribe – origin) Yastan or Yasutan, (tribe – ethnicity) or an Uls or Ulus (people) which is used to denote a country name such as the native term for Mongolia being Mongol Uls. Note that Mongol terminology does not always distinguish between a Tribe and a Clan so the more ambiguous words in this respect such as ovog or obug should be acceptable as they do not presume any form of scale.

The biggest problem with this precedent is the total lack of acknowledgement of included documentation. This is a failing of the College of Arms as a system. The work a person puts into researching their submission, and the work submitting heralds put into assisting submissions, deserves consideration as a potential source of new information. It proves to undermine any efforts on the part of the college heralds to insist that people should include documentation. Heralds cannot be expected to be all knowing and should find some way to include reviewing documentation as part of the name submission process. This would benefit all parties.


A recent ruling involves a submission requesting a “byname” before a given name. As there are no family names in Mongol, the second name is actually the father’s given name. A person can formally have that name precede the given name and is often abbreviated in modern use. For example, the name “Tamacha Batchagaan” can be presented as “Batchagaanii Tamacha,” or even “B. Tamacha,” and would be the equivalent of presenting my name as “Kapaj, Luigi”. What should be noted is that in this form, the father’s name should be written in a possessive form. In fact, when asking a person’s name in Mongol, a common expression used is “Henii hen be?” (Whose who?) as if to ask, “whose son/daughter are you?” A name can also be presented in the form of “Batchagaanii höbegün Tamacha” (Tamacha son of Batchagaan) to spell out which is the given and which is the father’s name. But in all instances, the person’s actual name by which he would be addressed, both by friends and formally, would be “Tamacha.” A similar rearrangement for a clan or tribal name is also reasonable.

Epithets and titles always follow the given name in common usage.

The same submission has raised some question over spelling the word chinua. (wolf) The confusion over the transliteration of the letter ‘ch’ will be addressed below.


A recent set of returns include a confounding mix of good, and not so good, advice. A preference for period Middle Mongol spellings of names over Modern Khalkha spellings is an excellent precedent for what the SCA represents. But to return the resubmitted period form with a suggestion to try the originally submitted modern spelling defies explanation.

A suggestion was also made with the original return to change Aburga (Giant) to Yeke (Great). This does not work as not only does it have a different meaning, it is also a different part of speech. Aburga is a noun and meant to stand as a name on its own, where Yeke is an adjective and acts as a modifier of the next word which would have resulted in a complete change in the meaning and use of the submitted name. The decision to return instead of changing it was fair.


There is an old precedent still listed referring to Chagan as a variation of the title Khagan (Khan) and not registerable. This is incorrect, Chagan means “white.” Fortunately, the level of understanding of Mongol has increased enough where more recent submissions are acknowledged as using its proper meaning so this has effectively, if not officially, been overturned.


Where the College of Arms fails in its task of reviewing name submissions is where such precedents are used to supercede any included documentation, however well researched from authoritative sources. It is not an issue exclusive to Mongol submissions, but one where a Mongol submission exposes the weakness as rainy weather exposes the leaks in a roof. This is an issue that needs to be addressed by heralds with a desire to improve the system.


The study of language itself is an underrecognized facet of researching Mongol names in the SCA. While linguistics seems like a separate study, it is a useful tool for someone not closely familiar with the language they are researching. To understand how a name is formed in Mongol, one must understand how a word is formed. Likewise, to understand how a name is spelled in Mongol, one must understand how a word is spelled in Mongol. This throws the researcher, however unintentionally, headlong into the sciences of linguistics, and especially orthography.

Mongols in the period of focus spoke a language referred to as “Middle Mongolian” which included three main dialects: Eastern, Western, and Southern. The earlier language is referred to as Ancient Mongol, and later language is known as Modern Mongol which includes the Khalkha dialect predominant in Mongolia today. Mongol is an Altaic language related to Turkic, Manchu, Korean, and Japanese. For the record, Mongol and Chinese are about as different from one another as two languages can get, though proximity has led to loan words. A few important features of Mongol include that it is agglutinative (in layman’s terms: lots of suffixes), contains no articles (“the”, “a”, “an”), and has a grammatical rule of “Vowel Harmony” where front of the mouth sounds (‘E’, ‘Ö’, ‘Ü’, ‘H’ and ‘G’) and back of the mouth sounds (‘A’, ‘O’, ‘U’, ‘Kh’, ‘Gh’) are utilized in words and their corresponding suffixes as groups exclusively from each other. Also of significance is that adjectives typically precede nouns as in English.

Specific to Middle Mongol is the intervocalic pause which is muted to a long vowel in Modern Mongol. For example, the word ulaan (red) in Modern Mongol was pronounced more as ula’an in Middle Mongol and evolved from (h)ulaghan in Ancient Mongol. Almost all double vowels in Modern Mongol were broken up in similar fashion in Middle Mongol. Middle Mongol also did not use some sounds common to Modern Mongol such as ‘Ch’, ‘J’ and ‘B’ having been used instead of the modern ‘Ts’, ‘Z’ and ‘V’. Scripts used in period include letters for such sounds but existed mainly for foreign words.


The study of writing systems used for Mongol in period can reveal details relevant to the task of how names were spelled in period. A complete discussion on orthography requires focused attention to detailed specifics. Here is an attempt to review a few of the more useful items. Latin letters (like the ones you are now reading) were not used by Mongols for writing their language in the days of Chinggis Khaan, so any claim of correct spelling in Latin letters is therefore inherently incorrect. We are only attempting to transliterate the writing systems that were used, a far less precise science. The writing systems that were used in period include the most widely known Mongol Bichig (Mongol Script) alternately known as Classical Mongol Script, Old Script, Script Mongolian or Uighur Script. Other scripts used by Mongols in period include Folded Script, Phags Pa (alternately known as Square Script), Chinese Script (a subset of logograms utilized phonetically, not pictographically), and Arabic/Persian letters. Latin letters were used in period by European travelers to the Mongol Empire and their travelogues included limited attempts at phonetic transcriptions of some names and words. When diplomatic communication was attempted between Mongols and Europeans, Arabic was typically the writing system of choice. Each of these writing systems poses different issues.

Mongol Script was adopted at the latest by decree of Chinggis Khaan in 1206 c.e. as recorded in The Secret History, and possibly earlier by some scholars’ investigations. According to the linguist Nicholas Poppe, Mongol Script represents a period transitional between Ancient Mongol and Middle Mongol. “It is based upon a dialect of the twelfth or early thirteenth century, a dialect which still retained some Ancient Mongolian features, but otherwise displayed Middle Mongolian forms.” (Poppe) Spellings used for Mongol Script represent spellings used in period and has not evolved with the spoken language except to add new words. To return to an earlier example, ulaan is rendered in Mongol Script as ulaghan, which is a Middle Mongol form, and was spelled as such during period, and through the modern day, even though pronunciation has evolved. Only with the adoption of different alphabets in the past century, such as Latin and Cyrillic, were spellings changed to match the modern dialects. Also, some letters in Mongol Script are ambiguous though context and grammatical rules provide distinction. These ambiguous letter pairs include ‘A’ / ’E’, ‘O’ / ’U’, ‘T’ / ’D’, and ‘H’ / ’G’.

The Phags Pa and Chinese scripts used to write Mongol in period highlight an interesting point. As neither is an alphabetic system, both use distinct symbols for the intervocalic pause to distinguish it from where an ‘H’ or ‘G’ would be pronounced. So both systems have characters to represent our example as ula’an rather than the Mongol Script form. The oldest known copy of The Secret History of the Mongols was written utilizing Chinese characters so names in that text represent phonetic transcription of the local dialect and are at times spelled inconsistently.

The Persian historian Juvaini wrote a text finished in 1260, translated and published by Boyle, known as The History of the World Conqueror which is one of the few primary sources available to the casual researcher in English. As valuable as this work is as a history, and a source for naming, there are some significant issues to be aware of. First, the Mongol spoken in the Middle East represents a different dialect than the Mongol spoken in eastern Asia, so differences will exist between texts from the Middle East and those in other dialects such as The Secret History. A problem for the Persian historian is the lack of the letter ‘Ch’ in the Arabic abjab or an equivalent letter combination as used in English. Non-Semitic languages that adopted Arabic letters, such as Persian and Uighur, use the letter ‘چ’ to render a ‘Ch’ sound, which is a variation of the letter ‘ج’ which is used for ‘J,’ differing only by the number of dots accenting the glyph. However, this distinction is apparently a modern one, as period examples such as The Rasulid Hexaglot show no such distinction being made with all instances of ‘Ch’ being rendered the same as ‘J’. Subsequent translations have led to the English misnomers of “Jengiz” or even “Genghis” instead of the proper Mongol form “Chinggis.” This is an error in spelling, but is an error that was used in period and therefore ‘J’ represents a legitimate, though localized, method of representing the letter ‘Ch’ in period Middle Mongol.


A common thread though this section is the inconsistency of transliteration methods. Unfortunately, there are several transliteration methods, and some more ambiguous than others. For example, the letters ‘K’, ‘Kh’, ‘H’, ‘Q’ or ‘X’ can all be used to represent the same letter in Mongol, which is the initial consonant in “Khan”, or a related but distinct letter as well. ‘Ö’ and ‘Ü’ can be written without the umlauts which allows them to be confused with ‘O’ and ‘U’ and ignores an important component of Mongol grammar. This allows words like Höhö (blue) to be spelled Kökö, Khökhö, Hoho or Koko and still be the same word. This also raises problems with words like Baatar (Hero / Knight) where not only does it have multiple spellings such as Ba’atur, Ba’adur, Bator, Bagatur and Bahadur, but the different spellings get separate meanings attached to them, even though in period writing systems such as Mongol Script, a single spelling was used and was associated with a single meaning. The discrepancies probably evolved out of localized dialects transcribed phonetically and different uses by different people. Some transliteration methods may be less ambiguous or more popular than others, but none are really wrong. For heralds, this introduces the problem of recognizing several variations of a word as being legitimate, and identifying these variations as the same word.

To avoid convolution of too many systems, and hopefully reduce confusion, here is a suggested transliteration system to follow (altrenative transliterations of these letters are given for reference):

Note that with this system, the word “Mongol” would be spelled “Mongghol.” This is consistent with spellings used in the traditional Mongol Script.


The multiplicity of transliteration systems creates quite a mess for the casual researcher and serious herald alike in documenting the period spelling of a name. Fortunately there are several resources available which can help. Aside from taking names directly from translations of period sources, there are several dictionaries available both in print and online to help formulate a name.

The Mongolian-English Dictionary by Lessing can be found in major libraries and offers translation between Mongolian and English with several notable features. The Mongol words are given in typed Mongol Script with transliteration into Latin letters (so the ability to read Mongol Script is not necessary) and the modern Cyrillic, along with the English translation. The introduction says, “the dictionary contains the vocabulary of all periods from 1240 on” (Lessing), and also explains the transliteration method used. Unfortunately, this dictionary does not contain English to Mongol translations. For English to Mongol translation, there is A Concise English Mongolian Dictionary by John G. Hangin. This does require knowledge of Mongol Script as the Mongol entries are exclusively in that alphabet. For those versed in Cyrillic letters, there are several dictionaries for translating between Modern Mongol and Mongol Script. These document the change in spelling from period to modern language, and typically include a section on translating suffixes as well. One such dictionary, Mongol Bichig un Tobchi Toli, is available to the College of Arms and has the Mongol Script entries transliterated into Cyrillic following the Modern Cyrillic entry.

There are a few online dictionaries such as the Online English Mongolian Dictionary by Gankhuyag D. at and the Online Web Dictionary Feat by Hundaga Hurelbaatar and Erhemchuhal Dorj located at which translate between English and Modern Mongol and require the ability to read Cyrillic. For translation between Classical Mongolian and English, there is the Mongolian-English Dictionary by Ariel Laurencio Tacoronte at which offers Latin transliterations of the Mongol entries. A valuable resource is the Altaic Etymological Dictionary by S. Starostin, A. Dybo and O. Mudrak available at which is cumbersome to use but provides Middle Mongol as well as many modern dialects in phonetic form. The site promises a forthcoming book.

Common pitfalls

The more obscure a subject, the more easily the researcher can be misled. The availability of information of historical Mongol names to the English speaker is far more limited than that of English names making it an obscure and difficult subject to navigate properly. Here is a review some of the more common pitfalls to avoid in trying to document a period Mongolian name.

The most common mistake, especially among SCA heralds, is to attempt to format a Mongol name as if it was an English name. These are two different languages from two different cultures that have their own distinct concepts of what a name is. With both cultures, a profound influence on how a name is formed is the predominant religion. English names often reflect religious figures, and are structured to reflect a central hierarchal paternal lineage. Whereas Mongol names, if translated into English, would sound to American ears much like Native American names as they share similar Shamanistic traditions. The structure loses its imperative beyond the immediate identification, but beyond a personal name, can reflect the father, the clan and tribe. Ofttimes in Mongol, a person of fame or rank will have his title used as part of the name, and the clan or tribe is rarely used beyond describing a person’s background to foreigners. In modern practice, Mongols tend to use their father’s given name where Western cultures would use a family name, but this is rarely the case in period sources unless the father is someone of note. Typically a single given name is used in Mongol, which presents a problem trying to register with a system demanding multiple parts. Even where articles such as the one by Moses, and those referring to it, discuss two element names such as “Yeke Barula”, they are discussing a Given Name of that form, not a first and last name in the Western sense of a given and family name. In modern practice in Mongol, these multi-part names are combined into compound words where most period examples are of separate words.

Another common mistake is to use sources not well suited to the task of identifying a name in period. This is compounded by the popularity of sources that are otherwise excellent historical references, such as the Paul Kahn interpretation of The Secret History of The Mongols. One feature of this particular book which makes it such a valuable source is the effort put into anglicizing the language, making the story more readily available to a wider audience. Unfortunately, this renders the book of little use for identifying a historically accurate spelling or pronunciation of a name. Other sources to be careful of are outdated ones, such as the article written for the SCA by Mika-Mysliwy. Newer sources with more accurate information should supercede any possible inaccuracies in such older sources.

When transliterating between Latin and Cyrillic letters, one should be careful not to follow the standard for Russian which has the Latin letter ‘H’ transliterated into a Cyrillic letter ‘Г’, which is in actuality a ‘G’, instead of a Cyrillic letter ‘Х’ which is a closer approximation. It should also be noted that in Cyrillic, the front and back of the mouth versions of these two letters ‘Г’ and ‘Х’ (‘G’ and ‘H’) have no distinction where in period writing systems, and still in Modern Mongol pronunciations, they have two distinct forms each.

Another thing to remember when reviewing sources, especially when they contradict one another, is that precedence should be given to works of professional scholars (such as Cleaves, Boyle or Rossabi) over SCA sources such as this article. Relevant articles from scholarly journals such as The Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies or The Journal of the Mongolia Society should be given higher consideration. Peer reviewed works by scholars often reflect access to better sources and can be relied upon as more accurate, than non-peer-reviewed publications such as those in the SCA or by hobbyists such as myself. In Mongolistics as in other fields, there will be instances where credible, scholarly sources will occasionally contradict one another.

Another situation to avoid is that of titles. As Mongol titles rarely correspond to English titles, it is not always obvious what is a title or what is just an epithet. Some titles, such as Khan and Khatun, are obvious. Ba’atur (Hero / Brave) is one where its frequency, prestige, and meaning are all quite clear that it was meant as a title in period, even if it has become a popular modern name. There are many epithets that are only used in isolated names which can be clearly viewed as not an official title and have its pattern imitated, such as “Bodonchar Munkhagh,” (Bodonchar the Fool) but there are also many which are not clear from either meaning or usage. Others which are less clear are Mergen (Wise) and Gho’a (Beauty) which can appear to take on a pattern of a title, especially in pre-Chinggisid period, but some instances such as Mongoljin Gho’a (Mongolian Beauty) imply they might not be titles. If it is not clear whether something is a formal title or not, the best advice is to avoid it.

What Can Be Done

The researcher can use secondary translations of period sources, or tertiary sources which faithfully render names from the period sources cited. One should also be consistent in the choice of transliteration systems. ‘Q’, ‘Kh’ and ‘X’ should not appear in the same submission as they all represent the same letter transcribed differently.

A Mongol name can come in many structures. Below is a set of examples, most using the same root name, in different formats as suggested by previous articles. These are different formats of a given name. The first few variations of a single word are the most common in period sources. The next group is of two part names, which are more common in modern names, except in modern usage they are typically joined into single compound words. The last two are rare, but not impossible, formations.

If a person wishes to use the most common period form of a single word name, or is not knowledgeable enough in Mongolian to formulate a coherent multipart name, then there are other ways to present the name to the SCA College of Arms.

The simplest way to choose a Mongol name for an SCA persona is to choose one directly from a period source. Preferably choose a more obscure one, so as not to conflict with famous personalities such as any of the Great Khans. Add to this a father’s name in the form of another given name to serve as a “last name,” or a clan or even a tribe name to designate place of origin. Be sure not to pick a combination that is specific to a notable person in history such as Yesügei of the Kiyan clan (Chinggis Khaan’s father). The given name, in any of the forms in the examples so far, can be presented in this manner. This simple formulation can be done without any grammatical knowledge if one of the following templates is used:

The latter may be bending the rules slightly, but no more than mixing English with Mongol for the sake of simplicity. Keep in mind that the object is to utilize a given name. The rest is a more elaborate description of who the persona is, to allow proper Mongol names of a single word form to be registrable under the College of Arms’ rules for European names. Tribe names are not presumptuous in these formats as the persona is claiming origin, not to be that tribe, much like the European name Isabella of York is not claiming to be the Duchess of York, but instead to have originated from the city of York.

With a minimal amount of knowledge of Mongol grammar, the previous forms can be rendered entirely in the Mongol language. In order to use these templates, the father’s name must be conjugated into the possessive form. To follow the Mongol Script usage of suffixes, they are kept lower case, usually separated (by a dash or a space) from the word they are modifying. For most words that end with a consonant, use the suffix “-un” (or “-ün”) unless the final consonant is an “-n” where the “-u” suffix (or “-ü”) would be used. For words that end with a vowel, use the suffix “-iin” unless it ends with the vowel combination “-ai” or “-ei” in which case the consonant form “-un” (or “-ün”) is used. The two different forms, “-u” and “-ü”, are variations that are chosen to agree with the vowel harmony of the word being modified. If this is too alien a concept, then use the former versions without umlauts.

The latter two refer to “son” and “daughter” respectively. Clan and tribe names do not need to be in possessive form depending on format:

If an epithet or multi-part given name is used, they are placed together in the position of the given name in any of these formats. Note that the distinction between a Clan and a Tribe is not always clear and a form for one can be used for the other. Also the differing formats are synonymous and can be used interchangeably regardless of which is registered. To say Luigi Kapaj, Luigi son of Luigj, Luigi of the Kapaj clan, Luigi of the Albanians, Luigj’s son Luigi, the Kapaj Luigi, or the Albanian Luigi all refer to the author, even though only one of which is on the birth certificate.

To make a more elaborate and original name would involve learning Mongol suffixes which is a task beyond the scope this article. Learning suffixes delves deeply into Mongol grammar. Short of learning fluency in the language, there are a few resources available to those who would attempt a more unique name. There are dictionaries available, and some guidelines on given name formations in other articles, both discussed earlier. The Mongolian Language Handbook by Nicholas Poppe spends most of the book discussing suffixes, their uses and their meanings. A wider understanding of suffixes will not only allow formation of new words for original names, but also allow other formations in which to present a name. Spending some time learning to write in the Mongol Script can help clear up many spelling issues that baffle those not familiar with the language. The previous article Writing Mongol in Uighur Script not only teaches the letters of the alphabet, but also some grammatical rules about its use including Vowel Harmony. These are intense tasks, especially for those not linguistically inclined, but doable by the determined researcher and the results lead to a better understanding of the Mongol language as well as names rendered in it.


Though long, this article was a hasty endeavor. I welcome further attempts to advance this field to the benefit of all who are interested, by correcting and going beyond this article. The knowledge here is to be shared and expanded upon. I am confident that the errors are few, but well aware that the empty spaces are many. Books can be written on some of the areas I touched upon including titles, contact, scripts and Mongol grammar. Whether this gave a few pointers on a one off project, or wetted the appetite to go further, the reader has benefited from years of frustrations and excitement formatted a bit more coherently than some of the correspondence that inspired this article. I hope the reader has come away from this with some sense of how involved the subject is, but also that they are now involved in it.


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© 2004, Luigi Kapaj. All Rights Reserved.
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© 2004, by Luigi Kapaj, in the SCA: Gülügjab Tangghudai (Puppy)
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