Decoding Mizo Names

Decoding Mizo names

David M. Thangliana

For those coming to Mizoram from other parts of India and the rest of the world, pronouncing Mizo names can be quite challenging. This is in part because the Mizo language is a phonetic one. Trying to figure out how Mizo names are abbreviated can also be puzzling. I will attempt to explain to non-Mizos how we pronounce and abbreviate our names.

First of all, there are two ways in which names are given. In the first method, one's tribe/clan/sub-clan is given first, but it is usually given as an initial. For example - H. Malsawma. "H" denotes the tribe, which can be Hnamte, Hmar, Hauhnar, etc. The second method of naming is by using one's tribe/clan name as a surname. In our example name of H. Malsawma, this becomes Malsawma Hnamte/Hmar/Hauhnar, etc. It should be remembered that Mizos do not have surnames as a rule. (By the way, the two letters "aw" form a vowel in the Mizo language and are pronounced as a soft "O". So "Aizawl" cannot be "Aizawal" because "aw" is not only a vowel, but is also a single letter in the Mizo alphabet.)

All personal names in the Mizo language are unisex. That is to say, both males and females can have the same name with the same spelling. Thus, it is very difficult to differentiate the gender without affixing an "a" or an "i" at the end of a Mizo name; an "a" denotes a male while an "i" denotes a female. The Mizo "a" is pronounced like the "a" in "Ma" and "i" is pronounced like the "i" in "mic." Most Mizo tribes living outside Mizoram do not place affixes in their names. However, Mizos in Mizoram, irrespective of their tribe/clan, do place them in their names, so when filling out forms, the "male/female" tick boxes become irrelevant for those who understand how Mizos name themselves. So, in our example name, H. Malsawma is a male and H. Malsawmi is a female. However, when one calls out to a person verbally, these affixes and initials are left out. For example, "Hey, Malsawm, where are you going?" Nevertheless, when talking about a person, it is important that the affixes are not left out.

We Mizos love shortening names, whether a name has two or three syllables. In our example name, "Malsawma" may either be abbreviated to "Mala" or "Sawma". When names are abbreviated, it must be remembered that the affix denoting the gender cannot be left out when calling out to them or speaking with them. In calling out to them, as in the example above, "Hey, Mala (or Sawma), where are you going?" is how to address the person. Calling a person by their full name is considered rude or impolite in most cases. When a parent calls a child by his/her full name, it usually means the parent is angry with the child.

Mizos do not have nicknames in general, but there are two popular nicknames, which are "Tawia" (meaning short) and "Te-a" (meaning small). Apart from these nicknames, other nicknames are very rare. However, endearments are common in names. These endearment names usually are "Mama/Mami" given to the eldest child or the only son or daughter in the family. Then there are "Bawihte, Mate (two syllables), Bawihpui, Tete" etc. These endearments are also added to the names as can be seen in our example name - "Sawmte" or "Sawmpui" with "te" and "pui" being endearments.

The titles "Pu" and "Pi" can also be confusing at times to non-Mizos. These are titles denoting respect, usually given to older people or people of great stature. However, it can also denote someone who is married. When someone addresses a person with an "U" (pronounced like the "oo" in "moo"), it means that he or she is addressing someone who is at least one year older than him or her. An example is "U Sawmte or U Sawmpui." "U" also denotes respect. When a person is introduced as "Ka u," it means the introduced person is the introducer's elder sibling or elder cousin.

I hope this sheds at least some light to clear up the confusion you may have about our names and how we call ourselves for those of you who are not familiar with Mizo society.

The Mizo alphabet:


(The writer is a co-founder and former editor of Newslink English Daily) 

The Mizos

The Mizos is a one-man team news blog, that brings you news and stories from Mizoram, Northeast India and the rest of the World.


  1. A subject often complex for non-Mizo peeps explained very neatly. However, in "..."i" is pronounced like the "i" in "mic.", one might be able to avoid potential confusion if words like 'sick', 'pit' etc. are used instead of "mic". Keep up the good work.

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