Monday, June 13, 2011

What's in a name?

Last week, I got introduced to a Tamil couple, who are soon to be blessed with their second child.  As the conversation carried itself to its obvious destination, it had to settle on the various names thought about for the child.  Choosing a name is very important.  Tell me about it.  About that, I will reveal later in the post.

So, what's the criteria? I asked as though I was a subject expert of all and sundry.

They revealed the various conditions, and I admired the way they had structured their thoughts to get the right name.

The name should bear some kind of a significance to one of the five elements of nature.  It should not be more than five or six characters long.  It should not have more than two syllables.  The name should not be too modern. 

It was uncharacteristic that they didn't want a modern name.  In an effort to be unique and what not, nowadays parents come up with unpronounceable(and "unspellable") names and maybe that's the reason why Indian kids tend to win those spelling bee contests so easily!

Considering the plethora of Indian names that we have floating around, I was sure that it would not be too hard to find a name that suits their requirements.  As we were bestowed with the fun part of suggesting the names, we came up with numerous names.  Some of them were cool and some of them had the "No way the child should get this name" written all over them.

As the Raghavs, Krishnas, Gopals, Keshavs and a ton of others were picked by different family members, we had to find the good ones that were not picked yet.

What about Dhruv? I said.  The name was immediately shot down.  Come on, the boy cannot pronounce his name at least until he is 10.

What about Anil?

Oh, you know how the Americans would pronounce that.  The semblance of the name to the human anatomy was startling and could not be ignored.  No way!

So, when you consider the fact that we have so many languages in our country, it is almost mandatory that we do not choose a name that borders on the offensive or shame in any of these languages.

Names like Karthik could not be a consideration, as it is almost mandatory for every Tamil family to have at least five Karthiks by default.

As we were goofing up with the names, I was taken to my early school days when it was decided even before I knew anything about names, what my official name should be.  My father decided that though I should be called as "Praveen" at home, I should take the official name of Subbarathinam (yeah read it againin school.  That is my grandfather's name.  This name is not even like Mani Rathnam.  In case of the latter, at least there is a space in between.  But, here, the name is such that, it has a sequence of fifteen characters and it felt like a running goods train.  So, as every new teacher grabbed the attendance register, I would silently mutter a prayer or two and hoped that she didn't mess my name too much.  Since my name was sure to be mispronounced, I was hoping that it did not get butchered beyond recognition.  Even as the teacher tried to strain her eyes a bit more than normal, I would get up sheepishly to make my presence, rather name, felt.  So, I was Subra, Subba, Subbu, Subbi, Subramanian, Subrati (like Subroto) and what not at different points in my school life.  There was a point in my early school days, when I used to turn my head in the caller's direction if any name was called out, let alone mine.

I could understand my physical education (or PT) master's difficulty, when he would say, What is this, I say? What kind of a name is this? If you get an award from our CM, how will you go and collect it with this name? (That was the closest in life that I have come to collecting any award, let alone an award from the CM).

Luckily, I persuaded my father to get back my actual name as the official name, and sooner or later, as my name changed back to Praveen, I had the same feeling as my grandfather would have had at the time of India getting her independence in 1947.

So, the right name is important.  Always.