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Your good name, please

Why do young parents name their kids Snighda, Apiyut, Udiksha and the like these days?


Rags met Mad in the evening and they went to Boom's house where they hooked up with Sup and Dips. As a journalist I am all for space-saving methods. Rageshwari and Madhumita take up too many letters on the page. But as a lover of words, including beautiful names, I must shed a silent tear over the merciless mutilation of the shubh naam that is going on these days. Let me not forget that my generation, too, was in the habit of shortening names. But while our pet names had two syllables, members of the SMS generation address one another in monosyllabic bursts. If these things work according to geometric progression (or regression) perhaps the next generation will truncate names to half syllables, uttering incoherent sounds like Fff, Chch or Bbb.

Nicknames

The trend probably sprouted with the first stirrings of globalisation, when the Indian queen of the cosmetic universe was fondly labelled Ash by the media. Today we have a Bipasha called Bips, which sounds like a metal detector or a car horn. While abbreviations are carried out in the name of informality, I discern a hidden agenda: to strip the name of Indian-ness so that it acquires a global or western or (more specifically) American air.

Think back to previous generations of Indians who migrated to the U.S. Initials were discarded and the "Christian name followed by surname" format was followed. First names were often changed to suit American pronunciation (Samir to Sam, Diwakar to Dave and so on). What we're doing right here in India is no different — but then, America is at our doorstep, isn't it?

In the '40s and '50s, brown sahibs would Anglicise their names to Dolly and Jimmy. Padmanabhan would become Paddy instead of Paddu. It is the "oo", "aa" and "ee" endings that go to make a desi pet name: Sarasu for Saraswathi, Malli for Mallikarjuna and Partha for Parthasarathy. If you end it with "y" it usually sounds western.

But look at the names I've just mentioned: lengthy, polysyllabic names of gods and goddesses. Who in this day and age would name their children thus? Deities no longer have a place among middle class south Indian names. I was quite tickled one Sunday evening to hear a young announcer on an FM channel plead with his colleague to call him Som instead of Swamy! It reminded me of my own childhood for, let me confess, good people, that I was christened Meenakshi after my great-grandmother. However, everybody called me by my condensed name. When I was five and ready to attend nursery school my parents considered submitting my full name for the school records. Apparently, I threw a fit.

Someone should do a study on the changes that Indian names have gone through. Once, a name would indicate the region that a person hailed from: a Gupta, Ghosh, Verghese or Cardoza was self-explanatory. With mixed marriages came a healthy cross-cultural union of individuals, whose children's names tended not to carry obvious signifiers of caste, community or region.

Fashionable

Yet another trend had more to do with fashion than sociology. The generation of Radhakrishnans and Kalyanis decided not to burden their children with old-fashioned names and chose Geetha, Latha, Deepak, Rajesh, Anil or Pradeep. These Anils and Geethas went to convent school, thought in English, shunned religious orthodoxy, and migrated to other states. They had fun experimenting with names for their children that were not specific to their native state or culture. It must have been the growing estrangement from their roots that caused the backlash witnessed from the '80s onwards. Young parents turned ultra orthodox in their choice of baby names and began picking Sanskritised ones that were, I suspect, mainly taken out of Maneka Gandhi's best-selling compendiums.

Sanskrit names

Get a load of this: Prateek, Snighda, Apiyut, Udiksha, Yashasvi. I discovered these and other names in a brochure of a cultural programme by one of those alternative schools. When you call a boy Purusha, are you advertising his gender or anticipating the man he will be some day? Sloka is presumably a flesh and blood creation and not a sound wafting in the air. One wonders what Sakshi has witnessed, and whether little Skanda has a brother called Ganesha. A short form for such names would be problematic. Sni, Ska, Pu, and Api don't sound right, somehow.

But why sweat over names when they're going to be anyway turned into Bags and Bins? My dream scene: Rags walks up to award-winning playwright Chandrashekara Kambara and says, "Hi, Chuck." It just might come true.

C.K. MEENA

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