Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What's in a name?

I was filling the UID- Aadhar application when I was stuck at one point which asked for my husband’s name. Now this is a confusion even my husband encounters every time he has to fill his name in a form.

Like most other communities we Tam- brahms don’ t use our caste name behind our names. So no surname like dubey’s /Sharma/rao/bhat/hegde/iyer. My grandfather’s generation did use it. But with my father’s and my generation it's generally prefixed or suffixed with the initial letter of father’s name like in K. Srikanth.( may be because of the anti- Brahmin attitude of the Dravidian movement , they did not want their children to be identified with their surname and singled out)

Long ago before the age of computers, when names where not expanded it did not matter whether we suffixed the initials or prefixed like in V. Anand or Anand, V. ( taking the example of chess player).

But today, all the documents like passport, pan card, bank account ask for the expansion and that is where the confusion occurs like now is he Viswanathan anand ?or Anand( his name) Vishwanathan ( father’s name)? and in the first case his wife will be referred formally as Mrs. Anand and in the second case she will be referred to as Mrs. Vishwanathan.

The confusion starts here - when there are names like first name, middle name, surname, family name columns to be filled.

Take the instance of the name – H. Balaji.

According to the computer records the first name will be the expansion of 'H' say Hariharan and the middlename becomes Balaji and not wanting to leave the surname blank you fill it with Iyer or sarma. Now the simple Balaji becomes Harihara Balaji Iyer. You are lucky if you have that many boxes or your name will be truncated to Harihara Bala giving you a new name.

Similarly,it is more confusing when you have regional names like Kani mozhi, kayal Vizhi( i like the sound of these names) etc., where the sound ‘zh’ is unique to tamil and malayalam and can only be pronounced by tamils and malayalees. The ‘zh’ conveniently becomes ‘l’ like the language ‘Thamizh’ becomes ‘Tamil’. If there is a change in your name or spelling between your passport,pancard, bank statement or your school/college certificates you are stranded for hours to show a verification or get it changed through court.

It is worse when you lose your identity in a foreign land when Rajagopal becomes Roger paul, Krishna becomes Krish ,Hariharan becomes harry and what will be the fate of names like Kani mozhi and Kayal vizhi? That i leave it to your imagination.

Like my cousin Venkat in the US says, when he say his name as Venkat the videshis ask him what cut?And when he says Venky, they ask him what key? All this when it is not half as complicated like in an Italian name.

Oh, Who says what’s in a name? There is so much to a name. I’m sure if Shakespeare had been alive he would agree with me.

I'm sure it happens with many other regions too like my bengali friend's husband is supriyo(male name) and he becomes supriya( a girl's name)


  1. There is so much to a name: yes, after reading this post..i instantly agree..cheers.

  2. An interesting observation by you...and yes it changes the whole personality when people pronounce the name in a wrong way.

  3. This surname quagmire is never ending. I had trouble with my name growing up in Gujrat.People were just baffled that I didnt have a surname. I guess predominantly people who live north of TN insist on adding Iyer/Iyengar to their name.Otherwise its mostly dad's name only.In TN,adding your community name to your name is a liability ;-)

  4. Yeah exactly...there was always a confusion when I told my teachers or friends that its my father's name...not the surname!

    Sigh...I guess this cannot be avoided!

  5. good observation but India is still not such mature country to understand your point.
    Here religion and caste is more important.

  6. It is confusion, confusion all the way. People of the North can never understand why we South Indians always end up using Father's name or the husband's name as our surname. Even I cannot understand. Does it mean we have no self identity, that we either belong to the fathers or to the husbands?
    I know people who don't keep anybody's name as their surname, but instead keep their Gothram/ place of family as their surname.

  7. lol :d unga name appo enna solvanga antha so called paradesis? saambala aah? :D :D

  8. @ ramesh : thank you :)

    @irfanuddin : yup, it is irritating to find your name addressed wrongly, the least they can do is check.

    @bhargavi: abso, I agree with you on the case in TN.

    @ Anu : thanks for your thoughts:)

    @ SM: yes, perhaps will take time. Thank you :)

    @ rama - yes adding gothram also ended in a confusion - how come father is a sharma while son is a shandilya? so it ends finally as harshit sharma shandilya.

    @ gils - hai..yo eppidi kandu pidichinga? neenga oru medhavi ana not pardesis even swadeshis :).