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Singh // is a common title, middle name, or surname used in South Asia, mainly in India, used originally by the Punjabi Kshatriyas (warriors, administrators and kings). It is derived from the Sanskrit word सिंह Simha/Sinha meaning Lion. It is used as a surname or middle name by Hindu communities including Rajputs, Rajanya Kayasthas, Kurmis, Jats, Yadavs, Manipuris, Bengali Hindus and Ahirs, as well as by Sikhs, for whom it is mandatory. The surname is generally used by males.
By the sixteenth century, "Singh/Sinha" had become a popular surname among Rajput warriors and Royal Kayastha administrators/lords. It was adopted into Sikhism in 1699 as per the instructions of Guru Gobind Singh; the use of Singh as a last name is mandatory for all baptized male Sikhs since 1699, regardless of their geographical or cultural binding. Some Brahmins, such as Bhumihar Brahmins, Maithil Brahmins also use this surname in Bihar. The anthropologist Kumar Suresh Singh said in People of India (Bihar and Jharkhand), published by the Anthropological Survey of India (ASI) that the surname "Singh/Sinha", used to denote connection with power and authority, was now used in Bihar by Brahmin and Kayastha zamindars, like the surname "Khan" is used by Muslims. "Singh" has gradually emerged as a hereditary title to be used as a middle name, highlighting connections to a warrior and Royal status.
The first ruler of the Solanki/Chalukya clan who bore the title Simha ruled around 500 CE. The Vengi branch of the Chalukyas continued using Simha as a last name till the 11th century. The Rajputs started using Singh in preference to the classical epithet of "Varman". Among the Rajputs, the use of the word Simha came into vogue among the Paramaras of Malwa in 10th century CE, among the Guhilots and the Guhilot of Narwar in the 12th century CE, and the Rathores of Marwar after the 17th century.
In the 18th century, the non-kshatriya martial tribes, including the Brahmins and the Baniyas of what are now Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, also started using the title Singh in imitation. In the 19th century, even the Bengal court peons of the lower castes also adopted the title Singh.
The adherents of Sikh faith adopted Singh as a surname in 1699, as per the wish of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru. In the Spring of 1699, on the day of Baisakhi, Guru Gobind Singh Ji (originally named Guru Gobind Rai Ji), made it mandatory for all Sikh males to append the name suffix Singh after their name (see also Kaur).
Singh/Sinha is used by Sikhs, Bhumihar Brahmins, Maithil Brahmins and Kshatriya communities as either a middle name or a surname. e.g., Kotwal Dhan Singh Gurjar, Chaudhary Charan Singh, Maharaja Bhim Singh Rana, Prahlad Singh Patel etc. At times, the Marathi Brahmins also use Sinha or Singh as a suffix to their first names, e.g. Udaysinh Peshwa, the scion of the Peshwa Dynasty.
The last name "Singh" is in fact used by a wider population from Bihar Jharkhand Punjab to Uttar Pradesh and from Kashmir down into Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, to Uttarakhand as well as the far eastern states of Manipur, Assam, Tripura, Sikkim, and even Bhutan, spanning the entire subcontinent and even reaching Southeast Asia, where in Thailand, as the Chakri Dynasty strove to empower Siam after the fall of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, Singh Singhaseni (1777–1849) was a prominent general, and Chao ("Lord") Racha Wong Singh governed Yasothon, 1815–1823. The name is also found in use among West Indians of Indian origin namely in places of Guyana, Trinidad, and Surinam, as well as people of Indian origin found in Mauritius and Fiji Island.
Singh is often used the traditional way, as previously described, by having it as the middle name after the first name and followed by the clan/family name by many communities, groups and peoples. For example, Yogendra Singh Yadav, Prahlad Singh Patel, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Sikh examples include Gurmukh Singh Saini,Kirori Singh Bainsala, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Jassa Singh Ramgarhia, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Hari Singh Nalwa. Thus Singh can be used as a middle name before the individual's surname (last name), a common practice among many groups in India, e.g., Jassa Singh Ahluwalia (1: First name, 2: Singh, 3: Family lineage name). Many adherents of Sikh faith across the world, some of which may come from many other races, countries, cultures and groups use the name "Singh" as a middle name with last name as Khalsa, e.g., Avtar Singh Khalsa (1: First Name, 2: Singh, 3: Belonging to Khalsa spiritual family). Another practise among Sikhs is to use village/town/city/country lineage after middle name Singh to avoid using the caste lineage, e.g., Parkash Singh Badal (1: First Name, 2: Singh, 3: Village/town/country lineage).
A common practice among the Rajput men was to have Singh as their last name, while Rajput women had the last name Kumari (Princess) which is derived from Kanwar (Prince). However, many Rajput women have Singh in their name as well. Several times during history Rajputs migrated out of Rajputana; many of those who settled in other parts of India have since come to use Singh as their last name even though they belong to separate Rajput gotras and clans. This happened over several generations due to the local population preferring to popularly call them just Singh in the new places. This was usually enough to denote that they belonged to the Kshatriya varna and were Hindu Rajput warriors by caste.
A section of around a million adherents of Sikhism that live abroad in Western countries only keep Singh or Kaur as their last name. This has caused legal problems in immigration procedures especially in Canada with Canadian High Commission in New Delhi, India for a decade stating in letters to its Sikh clients "the names Kaur and Singh do not qualify for the purpose of immigration to Canada" people with these common Sikh surnames have to change their last names before coming to Canada.
The ban was denounced by the Sikh community, after which the Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced it was dropping the policy, calling the whole thing a misunderstanding based on a "poorly worded" letter.