Talking of initials

RECENTLY THE Tamil Nadu Government has pronounced permission to opt for the inclusion of the initials of the mother's name also as an initial before a child's name. While this move is being hailed or claimed as historic action, it may be apt to ponder on this subject in a different light. Should anyone need to have initial(s) at all?

As the word `initial' is English and there is no spontaneous equivalent word in Indian languages, it can be safely concluded that the concept of initials is by itself is a legacy of the colonial era. But the initials obtainable with a European name and those with an Indian name signify entirely different facts.

For a British Christian, the name comprises three distinct entities, viz. first name, middle name and last name. While the `first name' is the direct reference to the individual, the middle name refers to the `godfather' who accompanies the child at the time of baptism. The godfather is not the actual father who parented the child but generally one of the uncles. The last name is the family name or the surname which signifies the lineage of the child. On many an occasion, the surname is derived from the profession practised by the child's family or the forefathers.

Amongst the Indians, possibly the only people close to replicating the British or colonial or Western convention in naming are Maharashtrians. There is no change in the significance of the first name. The middle name of a Maharashtrian conveys the actual father's name instead of that of the godfather and the third portion is the surname that refers to the village which the individual or his/her forefathers hailed from. Thus `Manohar' is the first name of father of `Sunil Manohar Gavaskar' and `Rohan S Gavaskar' is son of `Sunil Gavaskar.'

Almost all the people of Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh carry as their initials neither their father's nor their mother's nor their godfather's name. It is the individual's own first name that is abbreviated as initial or initials. In this case the first three letters in the name `S.P.S. Grewal' could stand for Surinder Pal Singh whose parents or forefathers might be hailing from the village by name `Grewal' that is located somewhere near Ludhiana. Similarly `G.S. Tohra' could refer to `Mr. Gurucharan Singh' hailing from a village by name `Tohra.'

In a much simplistic form `Saurav Ganguly' comprises his first name and the family name. Here the surname `Ganguly' signifies his caste/sub-caste as it is conveyed in `Mulayam Singh Yadav' and in `Arun Shourie.' Conventionally the surname of a child including the daughter is drawn from the father. While no convention exists for taking father's or mother's first name for initials, Bengalis apparently have tried to give equal respect to mother by using combinational surnames like Roy Chowdhary, Dutta Roy, Sinha Roy, Sen Gupta, Das Gupta and Das Adhikari. The author had an opportunity to meet a senior scientist who was sporting a surname `Dutta Roy Chowdhary' who on being queried said that he had truncated it by removing one of the four surnames. He had possibly had a `Sen Dutta' father and `Roy Chowdhary' mother or vice versa.

In close neighbourhood to Tamil Nadu on its west in Kerala, amongst certain group of families sons take the initial from father and the daughters from the mother. If one Keralite can have his house-name for initials like in `Kizhakkae Veettil Mohan,' another Keralite can have it as surname as in `Ayesha Thoappil.' Another Keralite by name `Kandatthuk Kunjuramap Panicker' went up north and proceeded to become a General in the Indian Army as `K.P. Candeth.'

Closely followed by Kerala, moving to immediate north, in Andhra Pradesh, father Mr. Nageswara Rao and son Mr. Nagarjuna can have the same initial `A' standing for their family name `Akkineni.' An Andhrite `Krishnamurthy' can call himself as `J.K. Murthy' by prefixing his village name `Jammalamadaka.' Akin to this practice in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtrians from `Mangeshigaon' and `Tendulgaon' can suffix `Mangeshkar' and `Tendulkar' as their surnames respectively. Generally Andhrites and Maharashtrians differ in their choice as to which part to expand and which other part to abbreviate. Generally, throughout India, a woman suffixes the father's surname till marriage. The surname of husband, to be more precise, that of the father-in-law, takes the place of earlier surname.

Thus, leaving aside the exception of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, we have hardly any group of Indian people adopting first letters of father's name or mother's name for initials. Moreover, while suffixing the caste name with gents was stopped about three to four decades back, adding caste name or surname with ladies was almost never heard of in Tamil Nadu. Hypothetically, if a daughter of a Brahmin couple is to be given the full name under `equal significance to mother' by adopting the Bengal method, she may be called `Vandana Kashyabo Bharadwaj' instead of a simple `R. Vandana' or `Vandana Ramasamy.'

With all these boundless conventions, do the initials convey any significant information at all? In order that parentally challenged children are also brought under mainstream without any differentiation why should not the government pass orders to do away with the practice of including initials or surnames?


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