December 10, 2019
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You Are My Soniyyaa

In naming one's sprogs, conviction may not be everything, but it does count for something.

You Are My Soniyyaa
You Are My Soniyyaa

When we were kids in school in Shillong, every girl in my class swore up and down that she had a cousin called I Saw The Moonrock Lyngdoh. Yes you read that right — I Saw The Moonrock was his first name. Apparently as a yet to be named infant in his fathers arms, his eyes had briefly flickered on a piece of lunar debris that was then triumphantly touring the world and had actually wound its way to Shillong as well. Obviously his father felt that no later achievement of his son's was going to be as significant as this one and so decided to name him after it. One has to admire the blind faith this man had in the judicial system of our nation that would prevent the said son from suing him, as much as the sense of conviction he brought to the naming process.

In naming one's sprogs, conviction may not be everything, but it does count for something. In a burst of self confidence and sure-footedness my parents were careful never to betray ever again in their naming careers, they called my oldest sister Vishakha and stuck with it. But in naming my middle sister and me, they displayed the sort of absentmindedness and lack of conviction that genius mathematicians bring to tasks such as buttoning their shirts. In a lather of befuddlement (that might indicate that they were not entirely sure of what the stork had actually brought them and what they were supposed to do with it); they dithered and named us first one thing and a few months later changed their minds abruptly and then a year or so into our lives, finally settled on a third name entirely.

The minor matter of a fractured identity (and a few hideous pet names drawn from these discarded names) apart, I feel we lucked out. The names they finally settled on may not have been as high on the memorability stakes as young I Saw The Moonrock, but they were quite unobjectionable. And critically, they managed to find separate names for all three of us siblings. A generation ago, that could not have been taken for granted at all. I know of many people who in the interests of their privacy shall forever remain nameless (the Chopras from Dehradoon, the Singhs from Nahan via Rawalpindi — for a full directory email me separately) who produced fairly large and happy families with many children of both sexes. And with incredible originality gave both a son and a daughter the same name.

I can personally point out to you the following sets of siblings — Krishna and Krishen, Kulwant Kaur and Kulwant Singh, Deepak and Hardeepak — siblings who shared not just a family (as siblings somehow tend to do), but also a name. What peculiar combination of reproductive abundance, acute-famine-level scarcity of first names and spectacular inattentiveness has to exist for this outcome? ("Oh darling, another boy this time." "What shall we call him?" "Why not Krishen? It's worked so well for little Krishna, why fix it if it ain't broke?" "I agree, let's keep the other 28,937 appropriate male names up our sleeve for a rainy day")

Duplication of a siblings name aside, a simple examination of the intended name in a few common languages and with slightly altered pronunciation should be made mandatory by law for all parents. Not only will it save them a fortune in therapists fees for the traumatised child later, but it may also open up a few professions that the name might otherwise deem him unsuitable for. This isn't far fetched at all — ask yourself if the child named Viral (vee-rull in Hindi), is ever likely to become an epidemiologist and whether you'd bet good money on an Anal-jeet going on to to win any battles as a proctologist. Shed a few tears for every poor Hardik, who has had a hard time his whole life advertising his constant priapism. Every Sukhdeep in an English speaking nation has needed succour (or Sukh-our) when his name has been mispronounced slightly and been taken as an intimate instruction by everyone he meets.

Changed my name three times, parents? Pish posh, in the face of all that your absentmindedness could have unleashed upon me, of course we're all good.

On the other end of the parents-who-are- obviously-smoking-something-seriously-good-while-naming-their-children spectrum are of course the parents who exercise extreme mindfulness in the naming exercise. There are two broad species of parents in this genus of the Mindful Namers. The first insist the name has to be mean something in at least 2 ancient languages no one speaks anymore, it has to reflect the child's utter uniqueness in a universe of 7 billion people, it has to reflect the culture they feel such pride in, should be ideally three or more unpronounceable syllables long, and should fit into the formula already devised for the child's sibling(s).

A friend once went to visit exactly such a set of new parents who had just had their second child — the first one was named Pratham (Sanskrit for first) and the newborn had been christened Maadhyam (Sanskrit for middle). My friend was mightily impressed with this taxonomic classification of sprogs and suggested brightly to the new parents, "You're obviously planning a third, may I suggest you call it Khatam and be done with it?" (Needless to say she wasn't invited for Khatam's christening.)

The other species of Mindful Namers have entirely different, but equally stringent criteria for a name — that it has to be cosmopolitan and universal, short and un-mangleable, it has to start with A because research has proven that kids whose names start with A tend to do 2% better in school, (obviously competitive parenting paranoia means that there is a double insurance policy — witness the alarming epidemic of the double As — the Aayeshas and Aaravs and Aadityas), and most importantly, it has to be deemed road worthy by both the astrologer and the numerologist. This last criteria can overturn all the other criteria in a trice — so the artist formerly known as Prince would, in India, have reappeared a few weeks later reincarnated at Princcce, just as Shobha has been transformed by the wave of an abacus to Shobhaa, Ritesh to Ritiesh and Tushar to Tusshar.

In the face of names such as these, one has to be grateful to those down to earth folk who keep their heads when all about them are losing theirs, those who show how one can tread a perfectly sensible naming path with minimum foo-foo and fuss. I refer of course to the standard bearers of the middle path, the eminently level headed, serious minded and balanced Mr and Mrs Kanye West, who showed the rest of us the way when they named their young daughter North. Yes, North ("I don't just have a sense of direction; I AM a direction") West. Now as Will Ferrell observed, all we need is for Alicia Keys to name her daughter Car and the universe can spin in perfect balance again.

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