Sunday, 10 January 2010

What's in a name

Your name is something you are born with ; unless you take the trouble of changing it later on in life. The vast majority of us grow to like our name and keep it. But consider the unfortunate few, who have been named rather quixotically by their parents. Why on earth parents do that is not clear, but do it, they sometimes.

Imagine if you are named Adolf Hitler or Idi Amin. Thankfully there’s a law in many countries preventing parents from giving their children obviously crazy names. That, of course didn’t prevent a certain Indian politician from naming his son Stalin. Considering that knowledge of recent Russian history is not the strong point of the place he lives in, we’ll let that pass.

But what about Justin Case or Barb Dwyer. Or Stan Still or Barry Cade. Or amongst the ladies Anna Sasin or Rose Bush . Or Jo King or Carrie Oakey. Sometimes your name gets you into trouble because of your job. Susan Frame is a perfectly acceptable name. She then married a Robert Mee and became Susan Mee. Still OK. But she's a lawyer and can you really be a lawyer and be called Sue Mee ?? And consider her husband Robert Mee. No problem again there, except that as a banker you don’t want to be called Rob Mee.

I haven’t invented any of the above names. They are all real names of real people. I wonder what their parents were thinking ??

Closer home, some parents in India go to enormous lengths to find unusual names for their children. Why ?? I know of a girl called Enakshi. All her life she has been correcting others that she isn’t Meenakshi. Some go for tongue twisters. Why name somebody Pradyush or Akshayaguna or Nakshatraraja, Tribhuvaneswari ? Sure they are lovely names, but others have to pronounce them , don’t they. Parents , please do a favour to your children. Find them a simple name that everybody can easily spell and pronounce. Like Aparna or Savitha or Preeti or Sandhya or Durga!!

In China, they have a different problem. Their names are pretty short and easy to pronounce. You can’t make a mistake with Li or Wang. Except if they have the different sounding pinyin characters in their names – Qiu is pronounced as Chiu and Zhang is closer to Jang. Where they get in to trouble is when they award themselves English names (they are actually nicknames; not official names, but they use these very commonly). Chinese is a wonderfully descriptive language and they often make the mistake of literally translating their names into English. So a Li whose given name means as soft and gentle as rain, becomes Rain Li !! Somebody must tell Engine Zhou, Ice Peng and Fish Leong that its not a great idea to name yourself like that.

But, in my book, the perfect name a mother has ever found for her son is from India. Some 50 years ago a son was born to doting parents in Sadupur village in Rajasthan. They named him Lakshmi Nivas (it means “where the goddess of wealth resides” in Hindi). He is who we now know as LN Mittal, the Chairman of Arcelor Mittal and one of the wealthiest persons in the world. Some prescience naming him that !!


  1. as every sunday post - subtle, thought provoking and at the same time hilarious.

    I was named sandhya because my sister who was 7 yr old then suggested the name (the classmate she met just before i was born!!) and my parents agreed in 2 mins for want of better alternative.

    But it is really changing. for my son, we did so much research, from menaka gandhi's hindu names to enormous amout of google search and huge shortlist and finally 1 day before his naming ceremony we had 5 shortlists. and we debated the entire day on the shortlists and still could not arrive at a decision. and then suddenly, a flash like name came into one of minds. Samarth was neither one of the shortlists or not even part of the long lists which we considered before. but then, it sounded unique and we went with it.

  2. and now the sequel...

    like all parents, we also very carrying this ego that we did not name our son the usual way, his name is different and all until we landed in pune some one year back and realized that starting from Samarth Vadewale to Samarth Pavbhaji wale, to Samarth automobile stores, it is such a common name in that side of the country. and we returned back our ego seviourly quashed, but more with a realization that names are not required to be unique but to be sounding nice and makes the kid feel comfortable with it.

  3. paiyan samartha irukanum solitu perlaye apdi vachiteenga :D :D sooper...unga peran and peyarthiku inum vasathi...naan samarthu paiyannu samarthu ponnunu elar kitayum solikalam :D :D

  4. seriana timing..inga vijay tvla "neeya naana" nu oru chat show iruku..athula innikana topic lengthy names or something with names i guess. but en pera vachikitu naan patta paadu and padra paada pathi thania post poda inoru blogspot venum!! with south indians "H" is a sacred letter...and every name is incomplete without "N"..vidhya vs vidya...geeta vs geetha vs gita..simble names thaan aana romba kodumais of india. right frm my sslc certificate every single certi. of mine has a dfft spelling and it continues in opice too...i got 3 in in offer letter..and one for display!!! :(((

  5. naming people is such a nice art :) Read somewhere that from Adi shankara's name one can deduce when,where,which star,time he was born it seems!! not sure how much is true in that or how many such meaningful names can be formed. Everyone wants an unique name for their colleagues named their kid in HEBREW for sunshine!!!! god knows frm where they got the info!!

  6. @Sandhya - Eevrybody in your family has nice names. Samarth is a lovely name - it doesn't have to be unique to be nice. nd your sister's choice for you was very nice !

    Trust gils to come up with a gem on your son's name !!

    @gils - People who go to extreme lengths like Hebrew, are simply crazy. Its better to then name your son Srinivasaramanujathathachariar !!

    Btw you better change your offical name to gils ! Lovely easy name, unique, rolls nicely on the tongue and no spelling problems !!

  7. The one that I can never forget is 'Nirasha' - an Indian girl in SA office. When I first met her I thought that I got her name wrong but when she emailed me with the same name I was surprised... apparently it is a name that some Indians do have in SA.

    Another name is the ones African's use called 'Ashanti'.... not sure of the origin...

  8. @mahesh - Oh no Nirasha is a really unfortunate name. South African Indians have a real problem - their names have been corrupted and mutilated by decades of islotation under apartheid. Ashanti is more understandable. I hink it comes from Ghana and is a tribal name. But strange to an Indian, for sure !

  9. Happy New Year Ramesh :-)

    In Andhra we have yet another problem; parents name their kids after all possible Gods. My mother was praying to various Gods for a boy (I have 4 elder sisters). Just before my birth, Raghavendra Swami (Mantralayam, Anantapur District, AP)came to her dream. So I was named Kotla (surname) Venkata Naga Satya Durga Raghavendra. My dad added Kumar. So I became KVNSDRK. Thankfully I am thoughtful enough while enrolling for 10th exams, I shortened my name to Kotla Raghavendra Kumar. When I got job (both SCB/Indigo), I was to deal with multiple countries and they found tough to pronounce Raghavendra and I was again rechristened and as of today I stand as Kotla. :-)

  10. Athivas10/1/10

    LOL, Names!!! In your own style, with an ending message like that!!

    When Chinese and Indians spell each other's names,it is even more fun!!Especially, when they read a loooong name over the PAS, in a packed silent hall, it is v hard to stifle a laughter!!

    Some parents show their loyalty to all Gods by their choice of names for their kids. Poor kids, have to carry their name all through the life. On second thoughts, names are like arranged marriages!!Like it or not, stay loyal, or get divorced!!:P :P

    There are a few like Laxmi mittal, to whom their names itself stand their inspiration!!

  11. kiwibloke10/1/10

    I know of a strikingly good looking girl in NZ whose surname is Garlick. Imagine if she were to date and marry the English cricketer Graham Onions, and in true tradition of the emancipated women of today, retain both the maiden name and surname by marriage, Mr Graham Onions will have some trouble going near Ms.XYZ Garlick-Onions!

  12. Hilarious! Nobody can understand that better than a Mahashtrian. They have such atrocious surnames. I was 'Kadam' (which is a 'foot or a step' in Hindi) before marriage, and now I am 'Dodake' (which refers to 'someone running' in hindi)! Just as if fate was playing a joke on me, I was travelling all over the place post marriage, so you can imagine!

  13. interesting post
    what is in a name
    ask Gandhi, Rane, and many more.

  14. @kotla - Happy New Year. Yes Andraites have that problem but they solve it creatively like you have done. Kotla is now world famous !

    @athivas - Names are like arranged marriages -- wow, what an insight. Very true.

    @kiwibloke - Oh my god - Ms Onions Garlick is a bit too much !

    @Deepa - But your name is one of the sweetest of them all - Deepa, simple, easy, evocative, very nice !

    @sm - Yes, even worse is Gaud, a common Maharshtrian surname.

  15. Hahaha..., you made me laugh loud!

  16. Anonymous11/1/10

    Nice one - laced with humour yet very thought provoking.

    There are some people in the God's own country who have named their child as Subhash Chandra Bose, Jyoti Basu and Lenin and of course Stalin! I am sure that I will soon start seeing children being named as Sun Yat Sen(Sen is a common bengali name though!) or Mao or Xiaoping or Jintao or Jiabao!

  17. @Dave - Wish I could hear you laughing !!

    @Vinod - Thanks. Sun Yat Sen in Bengali style is an absolute cracker !!

  18. LOL! Naming kids is not a joke. While my son has a fairly common and simple Indian name, Aditya, many in the US think it is a girl's name because it ends with an "a" :( As long as it doesnt bother him .... keeping my fingers crossed.

  19. @J - Oh that should be fine. I know of a fine young man named Hema Prabhu. What on earth where his parents thinking.

  20. Interesting and hilarious read for a Sunday post... was looking forward to it! Thanks to long distance travel aided by bad weather condition in Eupore, could not access internet for a few days.

    Quiet agree with your thoughts that names should be simple and meaningful. However, parents have various rationales behing selecting the names for their kids. There are a few people like LN, Sachin Tendulkar, Aamir Khan etc. who leave upto the true meaning of their names by virtue of their own deeds or destiny. And their are others too like Dawood, Madhu Koda, Harshad Mehta etc. who live exactly as opposite to meaning of their names.

  21. @VA - Yes, some crazies have been the complete opposite of what their names mean too.

  22. I spent atleast 2 minutes wondering wht was wrong with Barb Dwyer;-D

    I was born when Ronald Reagan was President of US;-/
    My sister got stuck with a name with rhymed with mine, had no meaning and started with sin tho her name started with c;-D

    There were 2 girls I knew in school who were lily and lovely & both looked terrible. Girls were so mean those days;-(

    Great Post Ramesh....enjoyed reading it so much:-))!!!!

  23. @Reflections - Understand your name now !I thought you are only 16 and therefore should have been born well after the Gipper ....

    Thanks for the kind words.


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