A taxonomy of desi names

You must have heard of it by now – a judge in New Zealand found the name “Tallulah does the hula from Hawaii” so bizarre that he made the child a ward of the court.

“The court is profoundly concerned about the very poor judgment which this child’s parents have shown in choosing this name,” he wrote. “It makes a fool of the child and sets her up with a social disability and handicap, unnecessarily.”

How right he was, I thought. Some parents need a manual on naming children.

Then it struck me that perhaps those parents are not so much to blame. They are, after all, carrying on the glorious tradition of inappropriate names that parents all over the world think of for their kids. It’s not as if desi parents are immune to this glorious tradition either.

In fact, desi parents seem to have devised innovative and interesting ways to mis-name their children. Here are some of the ways they do it.

A taxonomy of desi mis-names:

1. The loooong name : South Indians, of course, do this all the time. How many times have we heard:

“Hi, my name is Peddanuri Girija Prasad Chalapathi Sai Venkatakrishna Rama Rao….er, please call me Ram!” Then Ram comes to the US, Peddanuri becomes his last name and his name changes to “Paddy”. He is now “Ram Paddy”.

2. The name with interesting mis-meanings : This is the kind that lends itself to interesting meanings in other Indian languages:

e.g. “Dhandapani” becomes “Thanda pani” (cold water) or “Danda pani” (a stick and water?) and “Muruga” becomes “Murga” (chicken). On the other hand, “Sood” means “hot” in Tamil and also sounds like “choodu” (see) in Telugu (especially the Hyderabadi version, where it is pronounced as “soodu”).

3. The name sounds beautiful, the meaning? : For one thing, there are the body parts. It’s one thing to call someone “Sunayana”, or “She of the beautiful eyes.” But Nayana (meaning “eye”) ? It sounds very sweet, but what does it convey about the person? And “Shakuntala” is fine, but “Kuntal” (meaning “hair”) ?

I wonder why someone does not come up with a name on arms and legs and kneecaps. On second thoughts, there is “Ram Charan” (Rama’s feet), though you could argue about how Ram’s feet have spiritual significance and whatnot. Rama’s kneecaps, on the other hand, do not have any such significance.

Then there are the geometric shapes. In school, I had a classmate with the interesting name of Anuvrat. Neither of us knew what his name meant, so I looked it up in the dictionary – Anuvrat means “parabola”. There are also people called “Chakkaram” (circle) presumably referring to Sudarshana chakra.

I haven’t yet come across people called squares and ellipses, but I would not rule them out :) I am waiting for some engineer parents to name their kids the desi equivalent of “Octagon” or “Buckministerfullerene”.

4. The embarassing/ old-fashioned names: “Hi, I am Lajwanti (“Bashful”), please call me Wanti”

“Venti? Like in Starbucks?”

“No, Wanti”.

“Wendy?”

So it is decided – she becomes Wendy. Anything, she reasons, is better than Lajwanti.

4. The unpronounceable names: If those long South Indian ones don’t trip you up, then you should try the North Indian ones. Try saying “Mohinder Partap Shrivastava” at top speed.

5. The mixed gender name: I understand your plight, all those of you named Kiran or Prasanna or Krishna (especially the girls called Krishna). How many times have you received letters addressed to Mr. Krishna when it really was a Ms. ?

Bengali names also have this characteristic – you keep wondering whether Soumittra is a man or a woman, until you see him (or her).

And those long Southie names? Ramanarayanan Ganapatisubramanian can call himself Ram. But what does the hapless Seetharaman Venkatasubramanian and Lakshminarasimhan Santhanam do?

This tendency is not even limited to Indians. One look at the Sri Lankan (men’s) cricket team and Kaushalya Weeraratne and Ajantha Mendis tell their own story. Oh wait, there is also Prasanna Jayawardene and Sachitra Senanayake for good measure. Actually, if I didn’t know better, i would really believe it was the Sri Lankan women’s cricket team.

6. The usually mispronounced name: So there is this girl named Dhanya. You know what is coming, right? Everyone who hears her name wonders why she is named Dhania (coriander).

Going back to the Sri Lankan cricket team again, I have lost count of the times that the commentators have called Mahela Jeyawardane a Mahila (woman). If I remember, the Hindi commentators seemed suspiciously more prone to doing this. Mahela can also be classified in category #2 above.

7. The no-initials-please name: In many companies, there is the practice of referring to people by their initials. This is when people suddenly realize that Anand Sai Shanker or Arjun Shanker Shamnani is perhaps not the best name to go with.

8. The stuck-in-childhood name: Keralites do this all the time. Baby Kochamma is quite a nice name, if only said Baby was three years old instead of a portly 55! And I wonder how she manages to be a Baby and an Amma (mother) at the same time! Then there is Joy Kutty. After figuring out whether Joy is male or female (the answer: male), one starts to wonder at the “Kutty” (which means “little”). Little Joy will turn out to be a 200 pound hunk, and not the little girl in pigtails you were envisioning.

9. The “ghar ka naam”: The best part is that the parents themselves almost never call their offspring by any of these names. You’d think they would be satisfied at punishing the poor child by calling him Pyare Lal Saxena or BPSSK Rao, right ? Poor Pyare Lal is already ruing the day he was named and wondering if he can call himself Parry Saxena instead. But no, the parents are not finished yet. They have to go one step further and call poor Pyare Lal “Bunty” or “Tinku” or “Pappu”.

So Pyare Lal Saxena, or Parry Saxena, the 50 year old CEO and captain of industry, will quail in his boots at the sight of his mother, for he knows she will call him “Tinku beta” in front of all his guests!

****

This is not anything close to a comprehensive list; even as I write this, parents are thinking of creative ways to mis-name their children. So I request all of you readers to send in your contributions. For every one of you who thinks these examples are bizarre enough, I am sure there are 20 of you who think I have not gone far enough, or missed out quite a few examples.

So what are the strangest desi names you have come across? What new types of mis-naming can you think of?

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58 Comments

  1. Lekhni, is your real name Lekhni??
    That apart have you heard how the Chinese name their children? They throw cutlery up in the air (China of course stupid) and record the sounds made when they, ably assisted by gravity, meet their maker. How else do you think Ching Ling, Ting Lang and Huen Tsang came to be names??
    And Lekhni, I know for a fact that you are Tamil- Reasons being two- the indepth knowledge you display regarding the not so normal ways the Tamils pronounce names and I am a Tam brahm myself. There are some really hilarious ones I would love to share with all you good people that have bothered to share your thoughts with Lekhni and each other. But right now espresso, a cigarette and most importantly my good friend from UP, Dharmagya Dikshit ( not necessarily in that order) beckon. See you soon!!
    Pretendre AKA Sudarshan Jayaram

    Lekhni: No, Lekhni is not my real name. And thanks for the compliment about my knowledge of Tamil names :)
    Please do share the other hilarious names once you’ve finished your espresso!

  2. @Lekhni : Cant agree better! :) its actually fun when u remember the person’s full long name and call out to him/her in public… i am wondering what would be more ridiculous, the name, or the call! :D

    Lekhni: Oh yes, that’s the easiest way to embarrass someone – call them by their full name ;) Bonus points for keeping a straight face!

  3. I wrote a comment here sometime back. Don’t know where it disappeared. Anyway, to answer your query to Sakhi, Ashok Mankad is the same “Maankad” that she’s mentioned; only I thought that maankad meant spider,not bed bug.
    I have always been intrigued why some Hindi names, which are actually male/female are given to children of the opposite sex. e.g Sapna is a male noun but ever heard of a boy called Sapna? And Prithvi is a female noun and I’ve only heard of boys called Prithvi, not girls.
    And I’ve heard my share of Mallu Christian names like Jogy (pronounced Jojee), Sini, Seena (Chest in Hindi), Eliamma (Mouse mother?) etc.

    Lekhni: This is worrying. I have no idea why your comment disappeared :( I wonder if it has happened to others as well :(

    Interesting point about the male-female mixed names. Of course, I have heard of Prithviraj, which would be male, and maybe some guys shorten that to Prithvi. But Sapna is baffling (for that matter, it is also baffling why dreams should be male, but then, that’s Hindi :) )

  4. Pingback: TWELVE INDIAN WOMEN I LOVE « A Twist of Word and Mind

  5. twin daughters named(pet names though) …dudai and nunai…..
    cant even describe u in written…ask any bong……such a shame!!!!

  6. Very funny post!
    Reminds me, I had a 12 year old patient in my OPD one day, whose name was Udasa. She was accompanied by a younger sister (around 10 yr old) and a brother (5-6 years old). Intrigued, I asked what her siblings were called. They were Nirasha and Deepak. I should be posting this on unchaahi blog.

  7. Hi, times have changed these days – and parents, in a quest to give their children “modern” sounding names, end up naming them after popular pickle brands! :) I am compiling a list of such names – will update my blog soon :)

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