Monday, September 07, 2009

Your Good Name, please ?

It might be a considerable understatement, but so many things in my country are mind boggling to say the least.

Being the first person in my family to go to a what was called an "English-medium " school (where the medium of instruction was English), my introduction to our wide variety of religions, castes , languages and names here, happened very early , possibly in Nursery School. While we learned enough about religion and caste in social studies much later, the real fun part was the names, and all my friends who went to Marathi(my mother tongue) medium schools, missed out on this.

This was the middle fifties, and my nursery school teacher , a Mrs Rowe, wore frocks, high heels, lipstick, and played the piano, and we would sing our nursery rhymes, enraptured, because she looked like someone on movie posters. Later on in elementary classes we had teachers called Arbuthnott and Williams and Desouza.

An entire batch of Parsi (Zorastrian) teachers took over in 4th grade. Suddenly in some cases, frocks gave way to sarees, worn , what I thought, was in the wrong directions. They had names like Mrs Dewan, Miss Ghaswalla, Miss Kerawala, Mrs Pastakia, Mrs Cooper . Many of them lived in Western style, and their children played the piano and got prizes in school. My friends in class were a great mix of Christians, Parsees, Moslems, Hindus, Sikhs, and Anglo-Indians. The early sixties in high school, saw me change schools, and now we had a mix of Moslem, Parsi, Hindu, Jewish and Christian teachers.

That was my great introduction to Indian Naming Systems.

My community, a subset amidst Hindu's , were rigid about our middle names being our father's first name, and the last name/surname being the family name. So , say, Barack Obama, would have been Barack Barack Obama , because his father was Barack Hussein Obama.

In the Parsee (Zorastrian) community, it was customary to indicate the profession through the surname or last name. So someone who merchandized wine/liquor would be Daruwala (Daru=liquor), fodder merchants (Ghaswalla, ghas = fodder), land owners (Poonawalla, Billimoria, Mahabaleshwarwalla, Bhiwandiwala), professions (Patel,Driver,Treasurywalla,Dewan). They often used their father's name as the middle name.

Our late PM Mrs Indira Gandhi was married to a Parsi, Feroze Gandhi. Had his name been Feroze Daruwala, history might have taken an unexpected turn.

Given that Obama senior worked in the Kenyan Minsitry of Finance, a Parsi Obama would have been Barack Barack Treasurywala ....

Sikhs normally keep things simple. Sikhs usually have unigender names distinguishable only by the last names, which are either Singh for males and Kaur for females. So Obama would be Barack Singh Obama, and his daughter would be Malia Kaur Obama.

Anyone with friends from South India, always ended up being good at spelling.

Their names were always traditional and religious, and they always enjoyed having several initials. Unlike Hindus and Parsis in my state, you couldn't tell who was whose son, by simply hearing a South Indian Hindu name. The child's name was often preceded by an initial, corresponding to his father's name. Sometimes even in addition to the grandfather's name. As if this wasn't enough, folks enjoyed adding an initial, corresponding to their native place. What is interesting, is that Moslems who hailed from the South of India often followed these customs.

Our ex-president, President (Dr.) A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, had initials that indicated that he was the son of Januladabdeen, grandson of Pakir, and great grandson of Avul. He could have added one more initial to indicate his native place in Kerala State, but did not.

And so Obama would be H. C. O. B. Barack (standing for Hawaii Chicago Obama Barack Barack ) and his daughter would be H. C. O. B. Malia.

Upto 1995 the current record for maximum number of initials was held by M. S. S. R. C. V. L. N. S Chakaravarthy of Karnataka , with a total of 71 letters in the expansion.

Just in case people were getting attracted towards modern short names like Kavi , Suresh, Ajit etc, the Chennai Municipal authorities announced recently that folks naming their children after heavenly folks in the approved old style, would be gifted a gold coin on registering a birth.

It might explain the reason why the US Spelling Bee finals always have a good proportion of children from South Indian families. Its all those complicated names they learn to spell from kindergaarten.

Which is not to say, that traditional methods are slavishly followed all the time. There are some people who are such great admirers of International personalities, that they appropriate those names too, regardless of whether they are first names or family names.

The Alemao family of Goa has members named as Churchill B. Alemao and his brothers, Roosevelt B. Alemao and Kennedy B. Alemao, with Mr Churchill being a member of Parliament in India ! There are leading political and powerful luminaries in Chennai who answer to the name M. K. Stalin, and one of the cricketers selected to represent Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League is named Napoleon Einstein.

And we also have our share of modern types, who experiment and name their children as Proton Padmanabhan, Alpha Jyothis and Omega Jyothis. I am sure they will miss out on the Chennai Municipality Gold Coin offer.

However, it has taken an uneducated man from one of India's most backward states (Uttar Pradesh), to show how children should be named without worrying about anything like religion, parental names, family names, or place of origin.

The Times of India (Monday Sept 7, 2009) reports that
labourer Mithai Lal, 45, and his wife Chandrasena, 42, named their seven children after the political leaders as they believe that this would bring them good fortune.

And so they have an all India set up in their house, named after folks who have never seen eye to eye on anything. And Mithai Lal always includes the last names of the leaders.

Lucknow: Here Jayalalithaa (leading Southern politician) takes Bal Thackeray (Erstwhile political boss in Maharashtra) on her lap when he sobs, Manmohan Singh (our current PM) is fond of riding on Mulayam Singh’s (Leading Northern politician, PM aspirant), shoulders, while Kalyan Singh and Rajnath Singh (both wily northern politicians) have no differences and love playing cricket with Giani Zail Singh (Our late Ex-President, an accomodating Sikh politician). The next one to join them could well be Mayawati (today's leading northern politician, better known for erecting statues to herself).

The couple expects
one more child later this year and hopes it will be a girl so that they can name her after UP Chief Minister Mayawati. The family lives in Jalalpur town in UP’s Ambedkar Nagar district, 180 km from Lucknow. “As I firmly believe names can change one’s destiny, I named my six sons and one daughter after popular politicians of the country,’’ Mithai Lal said.

While 18-year-old Mulayam is the eldest son, the youngest, Bal Thackeray, is just five
months. The others sons—Kalyan Singh, Zail Singh, Rajnath Singh and Manmohan Singh—are 16, 15, 13 and five, respectively. Jayalalitha is eight years old. “Despite coming from a Dalit community, but braving all odds, Behenji (Maya) emerged as one of the most powerful politicians of the country. We too belong to the community and want to have a daughter who could make her parents feel proud like Mayawati,’’ Chandrasena said"

Just wondering, what choices they would consider if they have , say one more son and one more daughter .

Maybe go International. And name a son after George Bush. Or even Prince Charles. And maybe a daughter after Hilary Clinton.


Older folks in India never ask your name. They always ask what "Your Good Name " is .

Regardless of whether you are named after any politician.....national or international.

Thats why I am Ugich Konitari . It means , "Just Somebody, Just Like That".


  1. Lovely... !! Beautiful post... as usual... !!

    and interesting family that... yes i would love to hear what names they would give to another kid... lol...

    just reminded me of the dialogue from Satte Pe Satte... where amitabh tells their names are seven days of a week... !!

    sooper post !!

  2. Well, right from the start, I admit to having a good laugh at the first sentence: "It might be a considerable understatement, but so many things in my country are mind boggling to say the least." Oh, my word yes!!

    Wonderful post entertaining and full of history and information...loved it.

    I think it's time for a commercial break....and as luck would have it, over at my blog it is precisely that: an Indian tv ad :)

  3. wonderful post. Give's a whole new turn to the famous .."what's in a name?"!

  4. Ha ha! Wonderful, wonderful, post! What a lot of culture and beliefs behind an Indian name!

    As you have pointed out there are many types of permutations and combinations possible- it would probably take a statistician to make sense of them!

  5. Hahaha...a very interesting post.
    "Our late PM Mrs Indira Gandhi was married to a Parsi, Feroze Gandhi. Had his name been Feroze Daruwala, history might have taken an unexpected turn."
    Oh if only it was..... God how one surname has played tricks with a country's fate!!

  6. That was funny.My son has not forgiven me for naming him Ramachandra Sai Satya Narayan. I told him that it could have been Kandamangalam Ramachandra Sai Satya Narayan. And you are right. He is great with spellings. And he has shortened his name to Sai Ramachandran.I hope he names his children as Ka, Ri or Vi. Even K,R,V would do!!

  7. My kindergarden teachers went by the name of Rozario !!

    And the long initials of south indians are something legendary !

    But i have never ever heard of all politicians being born to a same mother. Or atleast, people with names of different politicians. this is indeed some news.

    And i have wondered why they take 'whats your good name' !?! Whats 'good' about the name ? Hmm.

    Hilarious post.

  8. I wonder how the different ways of naming children would affect a genealogy search. It's most confusing to me.

  9. WOW!!! Some of this was information to me!

    My kids were always being asked to add their dad's name ...and amusingly the best answer (and most happily accepted) was, "We don't do that, in our side" ;)

    Also we have some surnames that are popular in more than one part of India.. like Kumar, Verma, Rao, Lal... Singh in most parts of North India.
    Interesting post :)

  10. Wonderful post.

    I know mostly south indian people, who are known by their name and the initial of their father's name. This is very shocking for French administration. Then it is funny because my family name, of scottish descent means "....son". Of course I am a lady, being the daughter of many sons ;o)

    Then this expression "what is your GOOD name" always make my dream, as I am not quite sure if this is a casual or mystical question.

  11. How interesting!

    I saw "Slumdog Millionaire" this last weekend, and the game show host had referred to Jamal as "chai walah". Now, because of your post I understand "walah"!

    You live in a complex and fascinating part of the world.


  12. This was most interesting and gave us some insight into how people in your country got their names. I love your background music. I just saw Slumdog Millionaire, too, and loved it. Thanks for your prayers for my friend Balisha. She is home and doing great.

  13. I guess there was no blogging in Shakespeare's time. His query of "whats in a name ?" would have been swamped with comments ....

    Thank you everyone for your nice comments..

  14. ha ha ha...too good! Thanks for letting me know about this gem of a post!

  15. I have my share of problems with my name. Rajgopaul is my father's given name and he is known as K. Rajgopaul. The K, as is the norm in Tamil Nadu, stands for his father's name. Since he lived most of his life in Mumbai, then known as Bombay, he chose to use his name as the surname for all his descendants and I got stuck with his name as surname as did my son, my wife, my siblings and their progeny and now the fourth generation Rajgopauls have also arrived. The spelling chosen for the family name is also a problem as it is unusual, chosen by my father based on the advise of a numerologist of Colombo. Since a lot of names are listed in local languages and they are not phoenetic as one would desire, I have had to tackle many mis-spelt names and problems arising out of them.

    To solve the problem I perennially face in answering the question "Where are you from?" I am seriously considering officially changing my name to include the surname Punekar!

    I have worked with many British nationals and some of the names can be as amusing as this very light hearted yet informative post.