Q: Why do Sikh men have the last name Singh and all women, have the last name Kaur?
A: Singh means a lion and Kaur means a princess. In Sikhism these titles eliminate discrimination based on “family name” (which denotes a specific caste) and reinforces that all humans are sovereigns and equal under God.
This tradition started because through the last name one could distinguish what caste one belongs to. Just by knowing the last name they would say, “Oh, you are the lowest” or “You are the middle” or “You are from high class”. Thus Sikh Gurus eliminated the last name from all the Sikhs so that no one could distinguish the caste and achieved equality for all Sikhs. Guru Gobind Singh Ji gave Singh as a last name to all the Sikh men and Kaur to all the Sikh women.
Women were not treated equally before the time of the Sikh Gurus, and so to ensure equality, a movement for women’s liberation was started five hundred years ago with the Sikh faith. The Guru said, “You are my beloved princesses, my daughters. You must be respected. How can this world be without you?” He cautioned men for being rude and bad to women. He said, “Without women this world cannot be. So, give them the rights, and give them equal respect they deserve.” Women are humans and all humans deserve equal rights.
Normally, when a woman would get married, she would take the last name of the family she gets married into. Since Guru eliminated the last name, he said, “You don’t have to take anybody else's name. You are an individual, you are a princess, and you can keep Kaur as your last name.” It gave women a lot of self-respect.