I've been working on a character recently. She is an Indian biologist and genetic engineer. She was born in India in the 1950s with a host of congenital disorders. Her (Hindu) family immigrated to the US to seek better opportunities, where her extreme aptitude was discovered. I'm having trouble with her name. There is a history of names being somewhat meaningful in the work (a US Marine named Murphy, for example). I've worked out her given name as Bhawani, but haven't moved far from there.
Indian Surname to Reflect a Biologist/Engineer
So you’d like to give this Indian character a surname that reflects her work as a biologist/engineer, but you would also like to be accurate to Hindu naming convention?
It’s not really as simple as just giving you a few suitable names to choose from, because Hindu naming conventions are hugely variable based on time period, region, family history, religious sub-group identification, etc. Plus, the 1950s in particular were a period of huge flux in naming conventions, for various reasons, and you had different groups adopting different conventions, and sometimes ever different members of the same family adopting different conventions.
Traditionally there are a few options for a full name. They all revolve around a <given name> + <group identifier> formula, and over time what I’m terming the “group identifier” usually morphed into something resembling a surname. This usually started similarly to some last names in the west, as a marker of occupation (Patel, Deshmukh, etc.), religious sect or caste identification (Iyengar, Shastri, Acharya, Menon, etc.), place of origin (Mehwala, Kanchi, etc.), or other semi-random identifiers (Thampi, for instance, just means “little brother” and referred to the younger brother of a king, and later, his descendants). Sometimes some ancestor’s given name ends up as a descendant’s family name (this is the case with mine, actually—my last name is so because it was my paternal grandfather’s given name). Additionally, the core name formula can acquire various accoutrements, such as father’s given name, town of ancestral origin, etc. Sometimes the group identifiers can fall before the given name. Sometimes multiple group identifiers fall in various places in the name. I had a great-grandfather called Sarukkai (ancestral village, even thought I don’t think he was born there) Gopal (father’s given name) Srinivasa (given name) Acharya (religious/scholarly marker).
Basically it’s a huge crapshoot. You need to know your character’s regional background and religious and status ancestry to some extent, in order to come up with a realistic name. This Wiki page is an okay place to start, but needs cleanup and won’t give you many name meanings.
To come up with a “meaningful” name (aren’t all names meaningful?—I guess you’re kind of going with a common conceit here, of having a character’s name just coincidentally reflective of their life choices; nothing wrong with that, I guess), the problem is that most Sanskrit words related to biology or engineering don’t make good family names. Sanskrit for “biologist” is jīvaśāstri. Shastri (< śāstri) is a good last name. Jīvaśāstri is not, kind of like how “Smith” or even “Silversmith” or “Goldsmith” are fairly common English last names, but “blacksmith” is not. The word for “engineer” is yantri but that is also not used as a last name. In fact, if you look up Sanskrit terms for various sciences, you’ll find that Indians are naming their tech startups after these things, not their children. Similar problems arise even with more generic terms. “Malin” comes from mālī, which means “gardener” (sort of a biologist, I guess), but that’s not a common last name (“Mali” can be a caste surname but that’s a place-of-origin name and doesn’t come from the word for “gardener”). I’m afraid you may be setting yourself up for a lot of extra work.
You could use the onomastic chaos of the 1950s to your advantage. This is a time when parents’ given names were becoming children’s last names, especially among families moving to the west, and while it would be kind of weird, it wouldn’t be unheard of for a family to name their son Yantri or Jantar or something, and this could conceivably pass into use as a last name among that person’s children. I guess. Keep in mind, this relies on a plot device in which parents literally name their child “Engineer”. Be prepared to explain yourself, which will be more research to do the explanation correctly.
If you search “Sanskrit word for X” you’re very likely to end up at a site called spokensanskrit.de. This is a decent source, but do not trust the romanization. It is meant for people who already know how to read Devanagari script, so learn to read Devanagari first, and that will tell you how to pronounce the results you get, and thus how to transliterate them into something readable for English speakers.
“Bhawani” is a good name. It means “creator.” What does this character create to warrant that meaningful name? (Something biotech-y, I’m assuming. I don’t expect you to message back and answer this; it’s just something you should be thinking about if this character is going to have this name.)