What’s in a name…

Been a while since I wrote about all that has been happening. The funny, spooky, hilarious, thought provoking, sad, debatable, happy, heartwarming, nonsensical happenings in life that make the unnecessary details.

jk_cartoon768In my home country India, naming a baby is a major auspicious landmark event. Each part of India deals with the naming ceremony of an infant in a different way, some going close to a war while deciding the nitty gritties of who the baby will be named after, who will have the honor of naming the baby, which letter should it begin with, should it rhyme with the sibling’s or the parent’s or grand parent’s names. In parts of South India, the name could include the names of father, caste, village or other details to emphasize upon the pedigree or how majestic the background was. In the previous decades, I kid you not when I say that some babies have gone without a name for the longest time because the feuding family members couldn’t agree on one. It was not mandatory to write a name on the birth certificate then.  To add fuel to the confusion of naming a baby, where I come from the name ought to have a profound, deep, interesting, beautiful thought provoking meaning meant to leave the one hearing it dumbfounded or even mesmerized and yes not to forget, it is also called the ‘good name.’ We then add further chaos by giving the same person another name, only the polar opposite of the good name, which is the ‘pet name’ or the ‘nick name,’ usually ridiculous sounding few syllables.  Seriously, I still recall our previous generation asking, “And what is your good name please?”

So, having given the above background on Indian names I must share that the daughter is named after a furniture store I loved in Kuala Lumpur. As in, I didn’t love the furniture, I just loved the name of the store. I guess we are kind of unconventional. The son’s name is made up of  ‘only’  twelve letters of the alphabet and when he wrote it the first time as a three year old, that is, when he fitted his entire name in one line of his notebook his teacher and I shared hugs and high fived. Talking of names I am reminded of the time in Tokyo when I picked the daughter from school and walked home pushing the son’s stroller chatting about her day and she regaled me with stories of a game they played.  She answered my query of who all were playing, with “Keito, I, Lou and me.” I corrected her that I and me were not to be used together while explaining the difference as well as usage and asked again only to get the same answer. “There was I, Lou, Keito and me.” Uh ho. And again the same. It took me a while to realize that ‘I’ was actually the name of her friend “Aai.” In the current days, I should probably sigh, my bad. Gosh, English is getting stranger by the day. In one of the central states of India, mother is called ‘Aai’ or ‘I’ and a dear friend from that state was taken aback when while living in Australia she heard her teenage boy’s friends calling her Aai just like her boys. To be fair to them, they thought that was her name having no idea that they were calling her mum.

Each country pronounces names in its own unique way as we realized while we lived in Kuala Lumpur. Initially when the husband and I would walk into parties together, we would hear ‘so many balloon’ while walking in, so much so that I would turn around expecting to see balloons behind or around us. Thank God for divine intervention because we soon realized that I Sohini, was somany and the husband Varun, was balloon. Somany Baloon, indeed! Probably one of the most embarrassing moments of my life also happened in this lovely city. When new at work I came across a lot of men by the name of Encik and assumed that was one the favored names amongst parents when naming their bundle of joy, something like a Jack or Tom in America or an Aditya in India. comics-cyanide-and-happiness-doctor-woman-721628I remember the daughter had five Adityas in her class in Mumbai. Well, before I could literally put my foot in my mouth, my misconception was driven away by another newly appointed colleague who smiled, laughed, laughed loudly, laughed even louder as tears ran down his cheeks to ask, “Er, you are new to Malaysia, are you?” On hearing an affirmative reply the gentleman, the highly amused but very kind gentleman said between guffaws, “Sohini, Encik is not a name, it means Mister!!!” I should probably say ‘my very bad.’ Since that day I admit, I google a country before going to live there. Forearmed with knowledge from google I will not think that Senor is a popular name in Spain or Mexico or even parts of California! To give myself the benefit of doubt, google search started only in 1998 and the Encik episode is pre google era. There, am excused for my faux pas!

While driving in Jamaica with the husband and his colleagues we were stopped by the police as the colleague was found to be driving above the speed limit. The policeman stared for the longest time at his drivers license, looked at him apologetically and asked as to how his name was said. Our friend replied, Kalancheri Ganapati Krishnan Hari Haran. The policeman further went on, “So I should write Kalancheri?” And our friend said, no that is my village’s name. The policeman then wondered if he could write Ganapati Krishnan and our friend corrected him, “No, no, that is my father’s name.” Finally Hari Haran was written on the ticket. Then the patient and courteous policeman man gave his hand and said, “By the way, my name is Joe.” I must add that it was fun to watch the ticket receiver and the ticket giver laughing uproariously on an unsaid but shared joke.

I am pretty sure that by then God was guffawing at us because next we were transferred to Accra, Ghana where it is common practice to have the day of the birth as the infant’s name.  So we were suddenly surrounded by a number of Kojo, Jojo born on Monday, Kobby, Ebo for Tuesday, Wednesday was Kwaku, Yaw for Thursday, Kofi for Friday,  Kwame for Saturday. Go on, look up one of the most famous Ghanian Mr Kofi Annan’s birthday- April 8th, 1938, a Friday.

We Indians are really name snobs! We take great pride in the given name, its origin, meaning etc and I do give all credit to my adopted country -the great nation of the United States of America, where in my community itself that comprises of Swedish, Mexican, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Hispanic, Ukrainian, Australian, Pakistani, Israeli, Iranian, Russian, Indian, American and many more nationalities, we all pronounce each other’s names, initially probably with a struggle but eventually with aplomb and pride irrespective of nationality.

Do you have a story about how you named your baby? Or is there a story on how you got your ‘good name?’

Picture courtesy: Myfuncards & cyanide and Happiness (explosm.net)

 

 

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