So What’s in a Name?

Daiwalakshmy, Dhanalakshmy, Srilakshmi

Kamakshi, Arunakshi, Pankajakshi

Sakunthala,Charulatha, Snehalatha


I loved the sound of these names as a child and I still do.

When I learnt more of  Malayalam, I  understood the meaning of these royal sounding names and felt jealous of those who were called so. The goddess of wealth,the lotus-eyed so on and so-forth.

I  pestered my mother,why didn’t you give me a more meaningful name like Saraswathi or Lakshmi? Not one to stand nonsense, my mother replied , ok, I will call you Kaali hereafter!

I  was horrified.I  hadn’t thought of that.

Reminded of  Goddess Kaali’s ferocious countenance,I just kept  mum. No complaints on this front ever…

With the  general belief  that the more you call a person’s name, the more the person acquires that quality, Indian parents  are  particularly choosy when it comes to naming their child.

Some farsighted parents go on to name their children, Vishwanath- the lord of the universe, Anand- the  joyful, Anakha-the sinless, Rani- the queen, Susheela- the well -behaved, Sweta- the fair one,Rajkumar- the Prince, Shikhar – the peak etc hoping  to do their part in securing their child’s future.

While on a short visit to Mumbai,  I  was not surprised to notice that  every  other boy there is  named Sachin after the master blaster, Sachin Tendulkar.

A proud mother in Kerala named her 6 girls Usha,Uma,Ullekha, Ujitha,Urvashi and Udaya respectively. It was quite the news in the village. Their  traumatized father considered the birth of the  girls a curse upon him and conveniently took to the path of spirituality. The girls, though grew up to become accomplished women under the watchful eyes of their loving mother.

A child is named Antima,the last  signifying that she is the last among the girls born in the family. Another named Nirasha, loss of hope, because the crops failed when she was born. A son is called Visham,difficulty, because the family went through a difficult time at his birth. A girl child of dark complexion is called Krishna after Lord Krishna Another is called Kali- meaning a bud or  the darker one.

Some names are inspired by personalities ranging  from Bush to Clinton to Obama to Franklin  to Betty. Others try to strike an east-west balance with  Happy Krishna, Lucky Balram, Preity Sita etc.

Some of the typical names in Kerala would be Chackochan, Ousepachan, Thankachan or  Govindan Kutty, Ammu Kutty or Chinnu Kutty or  Aamina, Khairunnissa ,Khadija and perhaps  Simble Vinod…

But why should real names be a torment?

I was shocked when a senior master called out to  one of the naughty boys, hey kalu, what’s your problem?

Every individual loves his name.

For a teacher remembering the names of her students  is a daunting task. But Mr. Dikshit, a former Principal at Daly College, often impressed  everyone  when he  recollected  not just the name of  a student but that of his father, uncle and every other possible relative who passed out of that school.

I was thrilled when my favorite  Professor, Dr. Vijayan Nair of Government Victoria College recognized me by my name, after  almost 15 years.

Gogol in Jhumpa Lahiri’s famed novel,  The Name Sake, grows up to hate his name. The boy was named after his father’s favorite writer, Nikolai Gogol. In fact, he changes his name to Nicki when he grows up.

Our names are special, at least to each one of us.

But sometimes there’s so much more to a name.

It would be good to try and  say each name with love, at least with some care and a little more respect.
































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