what’s in a name?

Ive always wondered on the impact of names on our lives. It’s the one thing that we own, literally and completely, but for all practical purposes have absolutely no control over. It’s the one thing which breaks or makes a conversation while you try to make an impression. Names can spell doom or pleasantly surrpise you. I had to once make a call to Goundamani Dandapani. I was in not a particularly pleasant mood, and had to get this over with. Imagine my shock when a pleasant deep throated “Mani here” streams back at me! Since I’d already steeled myself to ask for Mr. Goundamani” out blurted the phrase – “May I speak with Mr. Goundamani?” And then, what do I hear, but a steady guttural laughter – a little higher bass and I’d call it a guffaw – and ending with a chuckle, “good lord, it’s been ages since I heard that one”
?!
It’s HIS name for chrissakes.
I know the good man has changed his name just like the Sam did from what his parents lovingly christened him with a Samudresan, or how Krishnaswamy became a Chris, and a Saraswati calls hersefl Sara.
I sure can understand the plight of folks who do not want to be identified for their origins? Why? Are we really embarassed about our origins, names?

The other day I met a lady who picked up a couple of outfits for her daughter. The 6 year old was performing on stage, and the mom was suitably charged with excitement. She told me her daughter was called “ilena” . My usual smiling self was momentarily frozen to a jawdrop. I asked her to repeat once more and to confirm again, she spelt it for me. Hmm… ilena, ileana, elena, lena – from the rudimentary knowledge I have of names and the roots, they all seem to have deep origins from East Europe. Where did this sweet lady with long unkept braid, a dowdy salwar, hardly “modern” in the way the world judges you, come up with that? Her last name was a very authentic telugu brahm last name.

A twice removed cousin married a girl raised in Rajasthan. My joy and enjoyment of the area and its products stops with Bandhani and mirror-work chania cholis and of course the lac jewelry. The travel in the area is a whole new joy. They named their kids – Chiraag and Siraaj.
With another very typical telugu last name, when the boys were called together, it was a mouthful. I felt sorry for their very local pre-school teacher.

It’s not so much as picking a non-traditional or unexpected name that bothers me, but more to do with how they fit with your identity. The first name last name are a team. While the former identifies you, the other identifies where you are from. Is it wrong to ask for them to gel together? as in not looking like you were making a hybrid of a guinea pig and a zebra. As comical as it may look or seem, the result is quite frankly ridiculous.
At the end of it, I suppose it’s really none of anybody’s business what parents name their own.

Came across this post and found it hilarious.

Blossom babykutty is priceless…
Enjoy!

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17 thoughts on “what’s in a name?

  1. Ya, I see a lot of people these days naming their kids with the “American” names. It’s hard to say whether the kid will like them or not in the future. I am not too worried about the culture or identity because the fact that we chose to raise them in this country, we made the choice to sacrifice some of the culture.

    What bothers me more are new “cool” Indian sounding invented names. They have absolutely no meaning. They don’t sound good. I blogged about it.

    By the way, I have to mention this new technique. One of our friends name their daughter, “Samantha” The logic is, it’s pronounced “Semantha” (as in Samanthaka mani) in India and Samantha by non-Indians :) Where do people come up with such ideas!

  2. I totally agree with this post!

    I have listened to so many murders of my name – Archaaana, Arkaana, Arkenna, Archeeena – still refuse to shorten my name to the easy (for non-desis) “Archie” while introducing myself to strangers! My point being, my name is an important part of my identity, so please take a bit of effort to learn to say it right. This can of course be interpreted as an over-inflated sense of importance and careless disregard for what is easy for someone else – oh well :-D!

    I agree with twisted DNA – desi parents come up with so totally exotic names for their kids these days – I guess its become sth of making a statement of being “unique” – to a certain level it might be true but its slowly becoming ridiculous!

    BTW, the original author of the piece about names blogs at sidin.blogspot.com -most of his posts are pretty hilarious :-)!

  3. My girlfriend’s part European and (small) part Native American, and I’m a tam brahm. So, we often joke about our kids having a name like Chris Threemoon Narayanaswami, or Annastasia Singslikeanightingale Narayanaswami. ;-) Sadly, she is going to give up a three letter last name (Cox) for a thirteen letter one.

    And interestingly, Freakonomics talks about this. Here is a Slate article that talks about it. Maybe someone should do a study of desi names?

  4. It once happened that there was a pretty little lady with the name “Ros bottom”. That was until she married Alex Patton, after which she began to be called by the name “Rosy Patton Bottom.”
    We all know the pathetic joke: Why didn’t Brook Shields marry James Bond?
    She didn’t want to be called Brook Bond, silly.

  5. And to Twisted DNA’s point — when you are in another culture and society, changing a name makes it easier for you to blend in. At the end of the day, a name is a label, and it is as much for you as it is for others, because how often do you say your own name?

    Which is one of the reasons you notice Chinese folks changing their names from Mao Kae Chang to Michael Chang – it is a lot easier, and makes everybody’s life easier (including that of the speaker – do you have any idea the number of times I just make hotel reservations in my girlfriend’s name than mine?).

    Personally, I’m all for universal convenience. Culture is a little more than a mere name, and I do not think it makes us any less Indian for using a westernized form of our names.

  6. Gosh, did my post sound judgemental? That truly was not my intention. I have no problems with the names people choose, and in fact I am okay with ‘westernising’ a hard-to-pronounce Indian name – my very own is what folks call me – a shortening of radhika. I didn’t create it, they did.

    I was purely commenting on the new sweep of names that’s taking over the desi community. My last few lines were more to do with desi names of purely desi parents, not ones of different cultures. I have a fairly large number of friends of the latter sort – French-Marathi, German-Konkan, Gujarati-Brit, Malyalee-Canadian to state a few, and their kids have very unique names. It’s actually very interesting to see what they’d come up with as it is indeed a celebration of different worlds and people. Ive been long enough around here to respect that :-)

    Metlin – I personally think East European names sound extremely sexy to voice out. Has that twinge of the mystery to it ;-) Most asians these days have a christian/western name, and understandly as their names are not written as they are meant to be read. I’d say a good 75% of desi names are manageable, mainly coz we don’t have silent consonants. Right?

    DNA –
    What bothers me more are new “cool” Indian sounding invented names. They have absolutely no meaning. They don’t sound good
    That was precisely my whole basis of this post. I guess this is what happens when I scribble in a rush on a Friday evening!!

    archana – Most desi names are really not bad at all. So why bother introducing oneself as ‘Kris’ {short for krishnaswamy} to another ‘deepak’ – I mean, shortening/anglicising helps when you want to lessen the burden for folks who are ignorant and understandably so, and really need that extra help.

    wh – lol. :-))

  7. I met a Filipino lady a few days back at work. She comes up to us, extends her hand and says, ‘Rosemary Marlou’.

    My (desi) colleague says, “Sure!”

    It took a while to explain to her why I was laughing so hard at that point.

  8. ugghhhhh cyd, i don’t call myself rads – i was christened such. Actually my real name is very nicely said by non-desis, ‘rads’ came up more out just being friends. I used that nick on the blog initially, thinking I’d stay anon, but gave up on that quickly. :(

    The world is so full of hypocrites :))

    ento, edo cheppalanukuni, ekkadiko poyindi blogu. chastey unko sari hadavidiga rayanu :((((

  9. Actually, they don’t disappear — they just get flagged as spam.

    Usually, I check my spam folder once a day, and if there are any regular comments there, I delete them.

    I think you might be assigned an IP that was used to spam wordpress by someone else before you, which might explain the behavior. :)

  10. Enjoyed this post a lot.Totally agree, the name should , if not gel, at least not jar with the surname. Also, if the ubiquitous “Venkata” is also to be factored in—! I had to discard some very attractive names for my kids, bec we had to have the “V”!

  11. I see it already happening to my 3 yr old…his name gets shortened according to convenience at school and it amuses me that A corrects them almost defiantly every single time…wonder when he will give up and just settle for the shorter version, it will be sad to see that happen.

  12. orchid – kids are quite tenacious when it comes to their names. If they love it or feel strongly about it, they will continue to insist and correct on the right way of saying it.
    Here while we announce or call names, we take great pains to say it right, some kids get quite sensitive and kick up a huge fuss. Don’t make me start on spellings – that’s another whole chapter!

    Lak – If only I had a penny for every uncle,cousin, nephew who had a ‘venkata’ in his name, I’d be owning a yacht!

    Metlin – such luck branded along with a spammer :|

  13. Nice post Rads

    I have been in New Zealand since ’98 and my surname has been more than a mouthful at Thirupuukkuzhi (a small hamlet in South India). My first name is quite simple though (Bala). Manytimes the situations caused my my surname are mirthful…such as when the telemarketer wants to sell something fast but cannot get started – gets stammering at Thi..Thi..ru..! Sometimes it becomes Thiruppi Kazhi (turn and subtract).

    I saw a briliant play by a guy called Jacob Rajan on Chandrasekar (physicist) and the title of the play was ‘Candlestickmaker’ as the Americans found it easier to call him so rather than Chandra…

  14. Interesting.I feel sorry for names with Ra and zha when they go abroad. They get butchered,
    There is a Ezhil in our french class (and what a lovely name!) but she invariably gets called something sounding like “echil” or like “angel!”

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