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Durable Link to this BlogFriday, October 13, 2006

What is in a Name?

What is in a name? "A rose called by any other name would smell just as sweet" -- wrote Shakespeare in his immortal play Romeo-Juliet. To people who are very aware of their identity, their personal name becomes very important. But in the land of Bills, Jacks, Maggis and Sues this might not matter. For Indians with their rich mythology and umpteen number of deities, naming ceremony is very important, and many Indians name their newborns after their favorite deity. Some persons imaginatively choose a name from a thousand names given to Vishnu (Vishnu-Sahasranama) or Mother Shakti (Lalita Sahasranama). Their pious trait makes them feel that they will remember God Almighty, every time they call their young ones, through day and night. That is one of the motives behind thus naming their young ones.

Holy cities like Kashi(Banaras), Mathura, Vaishali (associated with Buddha) Vidisha, a place and a river in M.P., (associated with exploits of Vishnu) Mithila (birthplace of Sita), also figure as feminine names, though some three are considered modern and hence fashionable!

Bengali names are imaginative and at times lyrical and poetic. They are Kankana (bracelet), Pallab(sprout), Pallavi (bud, blossom), Nihar (mist), Niharika (dew). A famous musician was Sisirkono meaning a "drop of dew". (sisir in Bengali means dew. It also indicated the two month-cold season of Magha-Phalguna). Ritu is "truth". It is spelt differently. For boys it could be Ritukumar; for girls Rita.

"Shamno" is a Vedic word meaning "our happiness" (sham = happiness, no = our). My father fondly called me as Shamno when I was kid. I wish it had continued as a proper name!

My father, a Sanskrit scholar, named my elder sister as Usha (dawn-light), me as Jyotsna (moonlight), my brother as Prakash (bright light) and youngest sister as Sushama (Well proportioned or equisite). These names which are rather common now, were rare and unheard of sixty years ago in the traditional South and hence fashionable. No "godliness" was attached to our names.

My father was consulted by friends and relatives, whenever a new birth took place in their homes. He was certain to find a rare, new and beautiful name for the new born. When our son was born he named him Vikas (progress, or evolution) indicative of New India's progress ahead.

Love of god, nature and lovely human traits - Shanta (calmness), Soumya (docility), Leena (concentration), Priya (sweetness) - are favoured by one and all while giving proper names to their loved ones. In Proper names one factor seems important. One should be able to pronounce them easily and properly. Otherwise it will be wrongly spelt and written like mine. I have noted down from various letters addressed to me, 29 misspellings of my name! That is why at times I wish Baba (my father) named me Shamno as proper name and not as nickname! It is short and sweet, although I might not have proved true to that name!

See Also:
• The Trouble with Indian Names…

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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