Whats in a name, you ask???


This post is for all those like me who end up having weird names and having to explain it to everyone all through their lives.  When I was born my mom’s side of the family wanted to name me Ganesh (after lord Vigneshwara) and my dad’s side of the family wanted to name me as Mallikarjun (after Lord Mallikarjunaswamy the family deity) and there was a big all-round discussion from the hospital to the house unable to decide which side of the family had a higher claim to me, thankfully my dads side of the family lost the war, otherwise I would have to been called “Mallika Mallika” (teased with a girl’s name) by the boys all through school and college..Yeesch!!. Finally the issue was decided by the old family astrologer who cast my horoscope and who recommended they give me any name starting with the alphabet “R” as suiting me numerologically and the name he suggested was Raghav. The extended family squabbles ended up by naming me with the combination of both names- Raghav Ganesh. Sometimes I was called by one and sometimes I was called by the other (at everyone’s convenience) and I ended up getting totally confused at quite an young age, asking everyone around that eternal question “Who am I?”.  The next major confusion regarding my name arose when I was torn from happily pottering around the family’s bosom and playing hide and seek with the neighborhood girls and heartbrokenly admitted to school, kindergarten to be specific and I was taught to my astonishment that I own an extra name – my initial P, short for Puttu, the family name…
As I grew up at various stages of my life I have been called P.Ganesh, Ganesh P, Puttu Ganesh, Ganesh Puttu, P.R.Ganesh, P.Raghav Ganesh, Ganesh P.R., Ganesh P.Raghav, Ganesh Raghav Puttu, Ganesh R.Puttu, Raghav Ganesh, Ganesh Raghav, Plain Ganesh, Plain Raghav, Plain Puttu, Veenaponnavane, Urupudathavena, Dei Venna, Dei Golti, etc….I have also responded to nicknames like Gilli, Gilma, Naaye, Peeye etc, affectionately bestowed by various friends through various periods of my life. Then there are the names which I have given to myself, like “Big G” when I was editing the college magazine and which I also used to sign my cartoons and drawing’s with and the most popular “GP” as I asked my girlfriends to call me and in due course they used to call me a number of other names too (some of which cannot be repeated here) once they became my ex-girlfriends.
 Of all the above names the fact that I have a peculiar Surname/Family name based on a popular dish down south has given arise to piquant conditions often. People who don’t know that I am of Andhra origin invariably associate me with Keralite origins because of the connotations of Puttu with the Malayali cuisine. And of course when it’s a good looking Malayali girl asking me whether I am from Kerala I always say an emphatic “Yes”. Ditto with being asked if I am a Gujarati or a Bengali or a Punjabi or a Ladhaki…although no one has ever mistaken me for one of those natives. But on the hypothetical premise that the question arises- I will never say no to girls, but always say “Yes, I am a distant relative on your grandfathers side” for in India we are all related to one another through our Gandhi Thatha, aren’t we?
With the onset of the internet age my name took new twists and a new kind of confusion is seen with my online friends courtesy Orkut/Facebook/Google as they assume that an Indian initial carries the same cultural connotations like Western surnames. In India we are often named for various reasons- after gods, after dead grandfathers, after our native towns and even after our professions. And as the last of the Puttu’s (bare my father), I don’t mind being called by just it, although on strict construction I can only be the Younger Puttu, Puttu the Younger or Puttu Jr. right now, while Puttu the Elder, my dad is there, entitled to the honorific title.
And then we come to the caste based surnames Sometimes I feel, that as long as even educated people wear their caste names proudly as their surnames, India will never progress to a developed state. Forget the Iyers, Iyengars, Reddiars, Naickers, Gounders etc. let’s call ourselves just Indians, can’t we? And that reminds me, whenever I tell people I am from Andhra Pradesh, they invariably ask me are you a Reddy? Quite surprising to me that people can be so ignorant to think that only the Reddy’s are considered to be Andhraities. The famous actor Megastar Chiranjeevi is a Naidu too and distantly related to me through my maternal grandmothers family side. Got my point about everyone being related to everyone else in India? Anyway my sister took the easy way out by calling herself by the surname Naidu. But I refused to add that Naidu to my name- not because I couldn’t decide whether to write it as Naidu or Naidoo, or Nayudu, but only for my Principled stand that I will retain my name free of any caste or religious connotations or even regional connotations. If someone wants to call me Sardar Ganesh Singhji, fine with me- but no kuttheys, kamineys or kala.
This kind of confusion over my name often has hilarious results when I talk to my north Indian friends, especially my Parsi friends. They take the trouble of giving me serious suggestions to replace my confusing surname. They ask me to consider names like Doktorwalla to indicate my profession or Vakilwala to indicate the family profession, or even Andhrawala to indicate my origins… No offence to you guys, I would rather add the 1000-wala to the end of my name rather than trying to explain these bizarre names for the rest of my life. And I keep thinking that if I was really forced to choose one such name- I would chose Ganesh Matterwala, which is self explanatory.
Finally, I have thought off printing a card with just my mobile number on it- something like 9840136954 with the last three digits “954” in a bigger, raised font and requesting everyone to call me just by it. But I guess society is not yet advanced enough for this kind of revolution in naming and I am ahead of my time…Sigh…
So even after all these years I am confused what to call myself Ganesh or Raghav? Both names belong to me, both have been used in various phases of my life and I respond to both when someone calls out in the street.  Do I have to choose one, definitely, as the matrimonial people suggest? Or should I leave it to posterity to judge me and call me by names? 
I still don’t have the answers, so feel free to call me by whatever name you want out of the above combo of names and if you think you have found a more appropriate new name for me, feel free to call me that. (But not “darling” please- that is reserved for someone special to call me)…
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13 thoughts on “Whats in a name, you ask???

  1. thank you for pointing out this valid suggestion Jaishree..i usually do it too…somehow missed for this post…anyway will keep in mind for the next one onwards…thanks again

  2. Oh My!! One can write this big a post on a simple thing like Name? ha ha…It was very funny and I absolutely enjoyed it. Very good post! I have a small suggestion. When you use non-English words it would be better if you put them in a different font say Italics and may be add the meaning in brackets. That way the non-Tamizh folks would be able to get the fun out of it as well. 🙂

  3. HA! i see that you remember our introductory conversation susan when the same question about my surname arose? and yes having a unique name is a good ice-breaker…

  4. Ha! i can completely sympathize with Mr.Periyatiruvadi, whoever he may be Mehul…and yes, parents dont give much thought to naming their kids do they? or atleast they didnt back then…the newer gen is more aware i think…

  5. its just my personal opinion Ash that as we are progressing to a more inter-connected world it is a oxymoron to stick to these definitions of caste and creed to identify us instead of gaining recognition by our work and achievements..anyway no harm done if its not meant..as i said in the post we are not responsible for our names- we just inherit it

  6. Oh my gawd!!! My head is reeling with the number of names that are supposed to belong to one individual. Being the centre of attraction of so many people is absolutely amazing.And many a times, names are are good starters for conversations. Doktor!Joy always,Susan

  7. You have to be happy that both Ganesh and Raghav are names that would not cause problems in India – or even overseas for the most part. In India, I was once turned into "Malcolm U. Dr." by Northern railways. I could only laugh it off and tell myself that they must have thought that I was a younger brother or cousin to Malcolm X. On the other hand, a gentleman in Chicago whose parents must have hated him since he was born, finds nothing but problems with the name that he was given – Periyatiruvadi. The most unique pronunciation of his name by an American sounded like "Periya Thayiruvadai."

  8. Ha. You were called by So many names? That would have been confusing way back then.I specially liked the last few names which you had written :-)But, Its so common to find names, which indicate what caste they are from. As long as it does not impact the person, in a positive or negative way, we can just ignore it I guess.

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