Tuesday, May 22, 2007

names and namesakes-I

"what's in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."- "romeo and juliet" by william shakespeare.

juliet tells romeo montague that a name is an artificial and meaningless tradition. she loves romeo as a person and not his name or the family name. and romeo in his mad love over juliet rejects his family name and vows to deny his father and be baptized as juliet's lover. "romeo, doff thy name; and for that name which is no part of thee, take all myself."

looked at from juliet's perspective, a name has no meaning, no purpose. but is that really so? aren't keeping names when babies are born a wonderful convention? how would you otherwise call them, pet them and think about them? ever since men evolved language,they have been trying to give names to objects that they saw and experienced. as social consciousness progressed with the evolution of men, men were also named. how would you otherwise carry on the business of a cultured society? that is why our ancestors realized the importance of naming persons and laid a lot of importance on naming a newborn child. this was done through the medium of a religious ceremony.all religions lay special emphasis on giving names to babies. among hindus,the 'namakaran' ceremony is all about giving auspicious and befitting names to the newlyborn. "name is the primary means of social intercourse. it brings about merits and it is the root of fortune. from name man attains fame. therefore the naming ceremony is very praiseworthy." -"viramitrodaya samskara prakasha."

there are good names and calling names. as jhumpa lahiri would write in her fascinating book of fiction named "the namesake." good names(bhalo naam) are for the record so to say. while calling names(daak naam) are the pet names. either it is a shorter form of the good name or something unconnected with the good name. it is not restricted though to bengalis only. as jhumpa lahiri would probably have us believe. i know of punjabis and south indians too who have two names. a good name and a calling name. virindersingh is called vindi or harbacchan singh is called bacchi. a srinivasan can be called seenu or something quite different. among tamilians there is a practice to give a name associated with being small. say kutty. kutty means small.my father was the eldest of three brothers.he was fondly called chellakutty(petchild). his two younger brothers were called payyakutty(a double emphasis on smallness) and chinnadhu(small).my grandmother lived to the age of 98. when she used to address my father when he was 82 as chellakutty, i couldn't but chuckle.

when i was born and had to be named there was a competition between my paternal and maternal grandfathers who were both very religious.the name had to be one of the names of lord vishnu. i was initially called karunakaran by my paternal grandfather(lord karunakaran ) while my maternal grandfather wanted me to be named rajagopalan(lord rajagopalan at mannargudi). for a couple of years i was called karun at home. then one fine day it got changed to gopal with the a and n dropped and raja too. perhaps it was the bengali influence as we were living in calcutta then. my wife too changed the spelling of her name and slightly modifed her name without completely departing from the name given to her. she did it because she was told by a reputed numerologist that such a change would do good for her in her personal and public life. it indeed did.

we named our daughter sulakshana (having beautiful or auspicious marks). and we also gave her the pet name lulu. she is now known more as lulu than sulakshana which is her official name.

when two persons have identical names one is referred to as the namesake of the other. nikolai gogol was a russian writer.in jhumpa lahiri's novel "the namesake", ashok ganguli and his wife ashima have to name their son before he is discharged from a hospital in boston.this task is normally left among hindus to parents and grandparents out of respect. having waited unsuccessfully for the name to come by post from ashima's grandmother,ashok has to quickly think of a suitable name . it didn't take him much time. after all his boyhood hero was nikolai gogol and didn't gogol's collection of short strories save ashok's life when the train in which he was travelling to jamshedpur to meet his blind grandfather jump off the track and meet with a terrible accident.he was the only one who survived out of the passengers in his bogie. even he would have been given up for dead but for the book "the turncoat" by nikolai gogol,the cover page of which he clutched to his hands for dear life. and which enabled the rescue team to spot him and pull him out of the wreckage. therefore, out of gratitude to gogol,he names his son after him.the young gogol ganguli becomes a namesake of gogol,the russian writer.gogol detests his name and when he gets an opportunity changes it to nikhil. when gogol tells his father that he wants to change his name, ashok fully aware that his son has become uncomfortable with his own name,tells him "go ahead,if you want to do so.you can do anything in america." he then decides to explain to gogol the reason for the selection of his name.

actually gogol is a close approximation to "google". and gogol is a very 'googleable' name. in the us, parents want names for their children that will work well for web searches. "googleability" is the key. perhaps nikhil(gogol) of 'the namesake' would not have been so frustrated with his name had "google" existed then. and ashok would have been proud of giving such a name to his son instead of trying to explain the rationale to his unimpressed americanised son as to why he chose such a 'weird' and 'odd' name.

your name remains with you from the cradle to the grave. and may also live on beyond that. it plays a significant part in moulding the worldly behaviour of the individual.through it one builds an identity.

"yajnyavakya", he asked,"when this person goes,what does not depart from him?" "name", yajnyavakya replied, "for name is eternal, all the gods are eternal and he wins an eternal world". - 'Brihadaranyaka Upanishad'

(to be contd.)