GEETHA RAMANATHAN BENNETT on the fascinating and sometimes illogical conventions around naming…
Recently I was reading a mystery novel by my favourite author John Grisham. He mentions that the lawyers in a big firm are all blue blood, super rich white males whose names end with Roman numerals. I was fascinated by this fact because my husband's name is Frank Bennett III. When I asked him about it, he laughed and said in his southern accent, “Laziness rears its ugly head. My folks were just lazy. My grandpa was Frank Bennett, my father Frank Bennett Junior, and I am the third. That is it... no blue blood here...”
This reminded me of my late mother Gowri Ramanathan's observation. She used to say that, in her childhood, days parents were not that creative. Sometimes if they could not come up with a new name, they would simply give both children the same name and differentiate by calling ‘Periya Echumu' and ‘Chinna Echumu', meaning ‘elder Lakshmi' and ‘younger Lakshmi'.
Have you noticed that recently names like Geetha, Seetha, Kamala, Lalitha are going out of style? Just for fun, I would open a Tamil magazine and browse through the names to find unusual ones like Suvasika, Pranaththa, Anmaya, Neha, Nandagi and Pravaala. Many young Indian parents spend a lot of time and effort choosing a unique name for their new addition. Some even go to the extent of reading through the Sahasra Namams 1000 names) of the god or goddess.
When you write to someone, how many of you have stopped to think, like I do, whether it is Narayanan or Narayan; Subramanian or Subramaniam; Lakshmanan or Lakshman? Sometimes one can make an enemy by calling someone by the wrong name, and I am sorry to say that I have experienced this several times.
During my elementary and high school days, there would be at least four or five Geethas in our class and we were known by our initials. I was R. Geetha for a long time since my father's name is Ramanathan.
Easy to remember
We have to accept that if you have a unique name people tend to remember it more easily. That is why, even in the movies, there is only one Kushboo, one Trisha and one Asin. If I say Ganesan acted in the movie, you may raise your eyebrows in a query and I have to clarify whether it was Sivaji or Gemini. In the West, the last name comes in handy. You may not recognise Julia, Diane, William or Michael but if I say Julia Roberts, Diane Keaton, William Shakespeare or Michael Jackson you would know who they are. Of course, there are some Hollywood and pop celebrities who want to be different. They simply have one name; Cher, Madonna, and Prince come to mind.
In Chennai, some parents give their baby girls the name of the hottest actor of the time. Our friend's driver named his girl ‘Jothika' a few years ago. The one born this month is ‘Anushka'. I also have come across a few who change the spelling in their names or add something else to it for good luck.
Why is that many Americans can pronounce ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger' without any problem but find it difficult to say my name? I am called ‘Kitta', ‘Giddaa', ‘Geedaa', ‘Greta' and a few more. This will always be a puzzle to me.