Having recently been through the experience of choosing a name for my daughter, my thoughts went to the identity formed by a name. There have been careers built around the spelling to be used in name – ask the numerologists. In the traditional South Indian tradition, the sound or the syllable that the new born baby’s name should start with, is decided by the way the stars align at the time of birth. It is not uncommon for parents in this part of the world to look for names that begin with “Re”, “La”, “Shi” or “Tha”after a baby is born. The English translation of some of these syllables is intriguing. As made popular in the movie “Chupke Chupke” about 30 years back, why are “go” and “to” pronounced so differently in English? An exact pronunciation of a Sanskrit word in English is not easy.
Nowadays, more visible than ever before is the change in the spelling of the name that ostensibly makes a difference to the fortunes of the person. Numerous actors in the Hindi film industry have gone down this path. Ajay Devgan became Ajay Devgn, Kareena becomes Kareina and so on. The popularity of the numerologists is such that they are invited to radio shows every day of the week where they provide advise on how a change in name can result in a change of a person’s fortunes. I wonder if Steve Jobs considered talking to one during his tough times with Apple in the 1980s and 90s.
A humorous take on the names of individuals was circulated recently. Footballers such as “Messi” find their names remarkably similar to the Hindi “Maasi” (one’s mother’s sister) and “Musa” is similar to “Mousa” (the mother’s sister’s husband). So when Musa was responding to every Messi goal during the Nigeria v/s Argentina match during the FIFA World Cup group match recently, it made for an interesting family tussle between the Aunt and Uncle!
While “given names” can be decided by the parents, the surnames have a different story altogether. Invariably, they form the identity of the person as a result of his/ her ancestry. In the olden days, they would be identified by the profession the person was involved in. Perhaps not that surprisingly, this practice found resonance amongst people in India and in the West. Thus for every “Shoemaker” there, there was a “Shoewala” here. Priests were called “Pundits” and so on. These are only a couple of examples that come to my mind. I’m sure there are many more and certainly, there must have been a lot of research done on the subject already that I am not privy to at this time.
To the end and in posterity, we are identified by our name. Invariably, they are a part of our psyche from the time we are taught to respond to the name shouted out in our direction as babies and later, when we are taught our names. While our names may not be unique, they are still ours. It is what identifies us and therefore, is quite important, no?