Sunday, August 30, 2009

What Is In A Name You Ask?

When a baby is born, the parents have a huge amount of responsibility to deal with. For first time parents it is even worse, because they have no idea of what they need to do, and they cannot stop worrying about what is the right way to do things. This is a baby, who you realise is more precious to you than life itself, the very first time you see him, hold him, and the entire responsibility of his life is placed on you. It would be alright if this were a walking, talking person, but this one does not do any of those things, atleast yet. So how do you fulfill his needs if he cannot even tell you what they are. He cries for everything, when he is hungry,sleepy,in a wet diaper or has air trapped in his windpipe from suckling too hard, and you need to figure out what the crying is all about, sometime it maybe just to get you to hold him. Its quite crazy, to be honest and add to that the responsibility of finding a good name for him. And that my friend, is not an easy task.

When the BB was born, I had a pre-selected boy name. Actually I had two, since I had wanted twins, but the ultrasound scans had dashed all my hopes, and I knew it would be just one. So one name was what I had in mind for a boy and and one for a girl.(I did not officially know the sex of the child, since it is illegal in India to disclose that, but I had a strong hunch from the second trimester that it would be a boy).However, when the BB was born, the name did not feel so good anymore, neither the GP, nor I wanted to keep it. And so began the hunt for a name. And it took us nearly a month to finalise it. And then we thought the job is done. But apparently not.

There are explanations galore that I have to give to people, who have a million questions to ask, about why we named him what we did. For those who don't know, the DH and I were born to families of different faiths, and hence the name could have been signifying either of the faiths, Christianity or Hinduism. We picked a name that is Greek in origin, because we both liked the name, its meaning and it sounded wonderful to us. Barely did I know the game had just begun, when I felt that it was actually done. Before the name was selected, there were strong hints and messages sent across to the DH by his relatives, telling him a Hindu name was not acceptable, and later I have ended up hearing no end to it.

To me a name is a word, belongs to a language, not any religion per se. So its the meaning and phonetics of the words that were important to me. I did not care to give him a name that is Indian so to say, because I had to, I just wanted something nice. I was not determined in picking any particular kind of name. I wanted something Egyptian or Greek because both the mythologies entice me and I find them very exotic. My own name is quite exotic, but quite a tongue twister, and I knew I definitely did not want that for the BB. All my life I have heard my name butchered and liked it a little less for that. The Hindu/Christian angle in a name just never occurred to me. With a high probability of not being in India all our lives, I found it a sensible thing to give him a name, which is easier to pronounce. The only thing I had decided on , was the first alphabet of the name, that had to be. It is the last alphabet of the DH's first name, because I thought of this as signifying that his son, would take up from where he leaves, had it been a girl, it would have been the last alphabet of my own name, same reasoning.

As is the case, when you tell someone you have had a baby recently, they ask the name. And so often I have had surprised looks and words from people for not giving him an Indian name. How could I not put a bit of my ethnic background in his name I have been asked time and again. An old colleague infact told me quite bluntly on the face, that India has great names to offer, and its only stupid people, who want to ape the west who go looking for non-Indian names. I was quite taken aback by his hostile reaction. And there have been more and more and more such incidents. I do not even bother to reason anymore.

But I wonder what is this mentality about Indian names. What is the issue here? That we cannot open up and accept new things, or is our culture not strong enough in itself? I have heard and known names formed out of Indian languages all my life, and hence the name I picked sounded more unique and exquisite to me. When people from other cultures can appreciate and adapt to our culture, why can we not do the same to theirs. What is the big deal? Does that not make us a richer culture, when we combine some more. And selecting a name from a non-Indian language, does not alter the culture of an entire nation so to speak. And the culture that people so wish to defend, also includes, sati, dowry deaths, spitting on the roads, wife beating and worse. So get off the high horses, people. Its my child's name. I choose what I want to, you have issues, move on, and name your own child, I don't need your censure.

The name has nothing to do with religion or culture, it is just something that I believe would sound good, and be meaningful. I don't believe in surnames either for that matter. I believe in individuality, and the burden of a family name weighs us down. I am what I am, not what my ancestors have been over generations. Every family name, carries an energy with it I believe, based on the people who have formed the blood line, and the heritage of carrying it scares me honestly. I want to be free, and do what I want to do, as I want to do it. Not carrying a surname, does not mean I am any less related to the people who are family, but it does make me feel free. In India, it is quite impossible to expect to survive without a surname, and even worse in a state like Maharshtra where the name has to have the father's/husband's name inserted into yours, else you lack credibility. I was actually questioned at my passport's police clearance, for not mentioning the DH's name as my middle name. Imagine, what would have happened, had I gone without a surname or even my maiden surname for that matter. The police officer would have probably fainted. It is just so pathetically regressive, that it is not even funny any more. So if I ever manage to get to a truly free land, I am getting rid of all surnames, and may just pick a fun last name, or maybe use the DH's first name as my last name, like Sushma Swaraj does. Would probably do that even for the BB, I don't need him carrying the burden of family names. Want him to grow up as a strong individual, a good human in his own right, without names shackling him down.

My name was selected in a lucky lot kind of way, traditionally. A few names were selected, (not based on particular alphabets or anything) written on the floor, like rangoli/aalpona and diyaas were lit, one for each name. The last one to remain lit was the chosen one. The BB's name came from a lot of googling, seeing baby name sites and constant discussion between the DH and me. The DH's was picked by his father. How was your's chosen, or your child's for that matter?

12 comments:

Sraboney said...

Lets see - how was mine chosen? I was born in the month of Srabone (July) hence, Sraboney...

We knew we were having a girl so my husband chose one name and I another...When our daughter was born, my husband thought the one I had chosen was more appropriate so we went along with it...I don't think we went into meanings in great detail when were zeroing in on our choice just what sounded good...

Rakesh said...

I understand that logically when you say How can you not put a bit of your ethnicity in your kid's name? it doesn't make sense but practically, it would actually be stupid if I'd name my son as John or Tim.

I had a long list of names for a boy and a girl starting from differnet alphabets but when the pundit said that the name has to be on Y, there was no name that we had thought of on Y. So again the search began and we finally decided on Yuvaan.

Btw, these websites never give you a good enough name. I've tried a lot of times.

Btw, I so want another daughter so I can name her Nirvana. I love this name.

Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

I'm with you on choosing names that sound good. When I was pregnant with the EO, I googled baby names every chance I'd get. I had three or four choices for boys and five/six for girls, with Rionna being my favourite. No Hindu connotation to that at all...just something that sounded very musical to my ears. Sigh...as you know, I did not give birth to a 'Rionna'. The YO's name was chosen to match his big brother's.

As for me, well, when my mom was expecting me, she was 105% sure that she was having a boy. She would spend hours compiling lists of boys' names. By the time I was due to make my entry, she had two pages choc-a-bloc full of boys' names. At the end, in case there was a small chance that it wasn't a boy after all, were two girls' names. 'Bidisha' and something else. My name is not Bidisha...

Pixie said...

I feel, quite frankly, that it's the parents business and liking to choose their babies name.
If they have asked someone else to select a name, then go along with that.
No one has any right to ask you why you named your child so-and-so. That's just rude.
And the whole last name thingn, is totally regressive.


My kid's gonna have a part of my name and my husband's.
Anyone who doesn't like it or questions it can take a hike! :D :D

this just means, I agree with what you say!! :) :)

Passionate Goof said...


Sraboney - Oh! So sweet. :) I know what you mean,the phonetics was the main attraction for us too.

Rakesh - Actually not stupid, if you think about it the right way. the moment you think, oh! its from somewhere else, I got the name from elsewhere, that is all it will be to you. Personally i don't carry tags well, culture, religion, family , any of those things, so to me, its whatever catches my fancy. :) I like 'Yuvaan'. What does it mean? And lovely girl name .... when do you use it?

M4 - Rionna, sounds so exotic. Love it! I love both the EO and YO's names btw. Just two girl names, and yet such a wonderful one??

Pixie - That is a lovely thing to do, putting a bit of the father and mother's name into the child's. Such a perfect way to name their own creation. And about the last name, chhodo, I was forced to adopt a middle name from the time I came into Maharashtra.

Piper .. said...

:) My grandpa chose my name. I have no clue why he liked it so much! My parents did too and that`s how I`m who I am! I loveeeeeee your name as well as BB`s. BUt I`ve already told you that!!
Still not able to manage time. Lots of pending work. Shall email you at length. Had a doc`s appt today. Have to talk to you about it.
And ohhh before I forget, the pics were gorgeous!! You so rock,Girl!!
Hugs. Been so long I`ve had a good talk with you.. :(

Just call me 'A' said...

I agree with you on finding a name that is easy to pronounce. I have a rather exotic name too, right :) and it's been battered in all possible ways. So I do know that if I ever have kids I would want a easy name. I'm not one to go for religion, culture, geography etc on a name. I'd like a universally sounding name....and that is possible i think but yes, many people would just leave that at that. they'll dig in and question and want to know why and why not. I dislike the piece about adding father's name, village's name etc to one's name. why can't i just have me....my individuality and grow myself from there, rather than be burden with what already is/was.
we make our own living complex I tell you.

I'm finally back to blogging and it feels nice :)

Rakesh said...

Yuvaan is actually gujarati for Youth!

Passionate Goof said...


Piper - Really? Grandfather picked it? The one I finally have, was chosen by my father's maashi. :) And thanks for the compliments, though i am not particularly fond of my name. :P I wish my medical reports said I rock as much as you do.;)

'A' - Believe me I can imagine, there is a limit to how much you can go about correcting people. I am with you completely on the name expressing my individuality and not burdening me with heritage. Good to have you back girl!!

Rakesh - You a Gujju? Really?

Monika said...

oh tell me about it... I am still told that I have kept a wrong name for Ojas... and u know we still havent choosen a second name for him for the same reason... I want some part of my name to get attached to him and hubby doesnt like his last name and MIL wants even their village name to be in it

sigh too complicated

mummyjaan said...

We had fun picking out the kids' names. I searched books, baby-name sites, asked friends and relatives, made up a huge list - and 'researched' meanings and historical associations, etc. from the 4th months onwards. We discarded our favourite about 7 months into the pregnancy when my aunt said that it had awkward meanings, even though to this day I think it was a melodious and immensely sweet-sounding name. khair, went on to give Apya our second favourite pick.

Kept the list handy and then picked out 3rd favourite when second child came along.

Passionate Goof said...


People really go crazy with names, whats with village, father, mother, uncly, aunty etc etc etc. I am going to get rid of even the surname as soon as I can i tell you!!

Mummyjaan - Oh! had a whole long list did you? Wow! I did not, we just kept picking and discarding till we settled on one. :)