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Dude, where's my name?

Names make news and history

"What's up, guys"?, greeted my ever-cheerful friend. But, I was in a foul mood. "Don't you dare call me a terrorist", I spat back. My poor friend was taken aback. And I was forced to explain about the very first Guy that was.

He had planned to blow up the British Parliament. The plot was perfectly planned and the explosives set. Had it succeeded, it would have changed the course of history. But, as it usually happens with such diabolical schemes, the police intercepted a letter written by one of his colleagues and busted them. Guy Fawkes and his mates were arrested and hanged in 1605. Guy's name became synonymous with villainy and cunningness. Over time, the name became just another word for a male. And people forgot that a Guy is basically a name for a terrorist.

My friend lost it. "So, should people change the words they use... or worse, change their names because of some historical baggage?" I could see why he was upset. He had one of those Telugu surnames, which is best left not translated. And as we know, it's well nigh impossible to get rid of names. Imagine having as your surname a Kennedy, Rockefeller, Hilton, Windsor, Rothschild or Gandhi; your life isn't quite the same as others.

"People prefer the historical baggage... sometimes," I said. "Take Caesar for instance!" After Julius Caesar and his illustrious successor Augustus, the Roman surname "Caesar" became the title of all Roman emperors. Soon Caesar was a name symbolic of power and majesty. Royal houses across the world named their dynasty as "Caesar" or with modifications of that word. "Fine," growled my friend, "don't talk about surnames. As if first names haven't caused enough trouble". I nodded.

My friend was talking about first names like Chang and Mohammed, which are the most common first names in the world. In the English-speaking world, the common man on the street is referred to as a "John Smith."Come to India, and no matter where you stand, there will be an Amit or Rahul within a few feet of you. I know of some very exceptional individuals who fight with the burden of the name "Srinivas". Everywhere they turn, they meet another one of the same name. "But, surely you don't mean that people should choose their own names", I commented. "And why not?" said my friend. "Genghis Khan as a boy heard a bird sing a note which sounded like Gen-ghis. And that's what he decided to call himself. And that's what people called him too thereafter".

Perhaps, yes. Bird or no bird, people today are increasingly changing their names. For most of them, it's because of numerology. For others, and this includes the clan of the film and glamour world, the cause is a necessity to have a name that inspires awe or a fan following.

"Well", I said to my friend, "at least you'll agree that names are important. And we sometimes end up being what our name is, rather than the other way round".

"I doubt that", said my friend. And I then understood why his name was Thomas.

Who was it that said, "What's in a name?" It was the same man who used to sign his name in seven different ways. Surely you were joking, Mr. Shakespeare.

Raja Karthikeya

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