Author's Note: edited 1/22/02, this study does not imply causation. It was interesting to investigate the roots of 'Kaur' and cross gender and cross cultural use of the name.
In 1699, Sikh Women were given the last name 'Kaur' and and Men 'Singh' by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs. This initiate intended to end the caste system, social stratification and much of the apparatus of Hindu ritual and legalism. In Indian society, an individual's name reveals his or her caste, and Sikhs were freed from the caste system by having all men incorporate Singh in their names and all women, Kaur. Based on the premises of gender equality, Kaur was also given to Sikh Women to establish an identity independent of their father or husband.
Most Sikh first names are gender-neutral. For example, Harpreet could be a male or female's first name. What identifies Harpreet Kaur as a female is the word Kaur following the first name. Naming a new born.
The literal meaning of the word 'Kaur' is Prince (not Princess). It is a derivative of the Sanskrit word 'Kanwar' meaning Prince, whereas, 'Singh' is derived from the Sanskrit word 'Simha' meaning lion. It is rather interesting to note, that even Male Sikhs in the past have used (and possibly even today use) 'Kaur' in their names.
Just like Kaur, Kanwar has been used by both men and women. The Mewar Encyclopedia includes these references.
Birendra Kaur, Ph.D. in her paper, Insight and Foresight exemplifies the role of women as bearing great responsibility. "...Today, we women hold our heads high for the contribution of Sikhism. Women of yore in every sphere, be it service, leadership, or sacrifice. Nowhere else does a woman enjoy such a respectable status as in Sikhi. The Guru has lovingly called us 'Kaur', which means a crown prince - i.e., on whom lies great responsibility."
While researching the origin of Kaur, we came across an interesting temporal correlation between Guru Gobind Singh giving the title to women in 1699 and prior use of Kaur as early as 1636 for both males and females, in Switzerland. This data does not imply causation.
Birth and death records from the 1600's indicate: (we also found different spellings used: 'Caur', 'Kaur', 'Kauwer' and 'Kauer')
Kaur is a common Estonian first name.
On 29 May 1883, Adda A Cartwright (mother) and David Kane-Kaur(Father) had a baby girl in Bolivar, NY. From Early Birth Records Allegany Co., NY
"The Upright Pentacle symbol (five corner star) was one of the most widely used religious symbols, used by by ancient Pagans, ancient Israelites, Christians, magicians, Wiccans and others. This symbol apparently originated as the symbol of a Goddess who was worshiped over an area which extends from present-day England to Egypt and beyond. Her name was Kore (also know as Car, Cara, Carnac, Ceres, Core, Kar, Karnak, Kaur, Kauri, Ker, Kerma, Kher, Kore, Q're, etc.). As Carmenta she was said to have invented the Roman alphabet. From her alternate Roman name Ceres have evolved many English words: cardiac, carnal, cereal, core, corn, and kernel. The port of Caraalis, (now Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia), was named after her. Kore was worshiped within the Coptic Gnostic Christian religion in Alexandria, Egypt, during the 4th century CE (400 AD)." Source.
It is not surprising that the centuries old influence over time penetrated the social and the psychological fabric of the followers of the aforementioned faiths. Perhaps that would explain why the name Kaur infiltrated entire cultures and populations. Read About the Kaur of Indonesia (the race and the language). Also read about the 1938 reference to the name Avraham Kaur (Zlotke's husband) in Shchuchin Yizkor book, pg. 60.
Even though Sikhism is an ideally progressive social structure, ironically, some still find it difficult to let go of the caste system and the use of last names. The use of Family Names is still prevalent. A recommended action plan is stop using the last names like Arora, Sodhi etc. Guru Gobind Singh intended us to have Singh and Kaur as the last names. Not to reiterate but if you are still wondering why you should go about changing a name you have become accustomed to?