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What's in a name?

What do parents keep in mind when looking for a name for their child? Quite a lot it seems. Colleen Braganza tells more.

art and culture Updated: Jun 20, 2009 18:13 IST
Colleen Braganza

What do parents keep in mind when looking for a name for their child? Quite a lot it seems by Colleen Braganza

Someone once said that the best way to decide what to name your child is to practice yelling the potential name some 10 times. So if your choices are Ajatashatru / Damayanti, picture yourself shouting ‘Ajatashatru you are late for school’ and ‘Damayanti come for lunch’ 10 times. If you feel stupid at the end of this exercise, your choices are probably wrong and you should look for another name.

Now that may be one way to select a child’s name. But what do Indian parents actually look for when they choose their children’s names?

“Earlier we used to names our children after gods and goddesses. Then there was a trend to name all kids in the family with the same alphabet. You got a series like Asha, Ashok and Ankur. Many families would do that,” says Dr Shyama Chona, well known educationist and author of a book on parenting.

The 60s and 70s saw names of filmstars become the rage. That era resulted in a whole generation of Dilips, Rajeshs, Hemas and Sanjivs. But now, the stress is on being unique. “People want to beat the trend and give their kids unique names now. So, names like Prakriti and Pracheta are popular,” says Dr Chona.

Meaningful names
Whatever the trend now, one thing hasn’t changed: the need to have names with meanings. “In India, since as long as we can remember, we have always given our children meaningful names,” says Dr Chona.

Former model Sunalika Sinha agrees that meaning was an important consideration when she and her husband Padmanabh were thinking of names for their baby. “We wanted something that was meaningful, unique and short since both of us have really long names.”

They settled for the very unique Aranis for their son. “We chose Aranis because we loved it. It means the sun. Many people have told us it sounds like Greek, but it is pure Sanskrit,” says Sunalika.

Singapore based telecom professional Ankit Kumar Agarwal and his wife Meeshal say meaning was important for them too but there were other factors that also helped them choose their daughter’s rather unique name, Aarna.

“We wanted the name to begin with ‘A’ as everyone in my husband’s family has their names beginning with that letter. We wanted a new name, not a common one like Pooja or Priyanka. Then the name had to be meaningful. One of goddess Lakshmi’s many names is also Aarna. It also had to sound good and not be a tongue twister,” says Meeshal.

Ease of pronunciation was important to Ekta and Nigel Eccleston who come from different backgrounds and wanted a name that would go well on the tongues of both families. “We also wanted to choose a name that people would not have a problem in spelling or pronouncing,” says Nigel. They settled for Nikita when their daughter was born.

Tradition survives
Though some couples have abandoned the tradition of calling a pujari to pull out the first letter of the child’s name, that tradition is still widely followed.

You’d think having a letter to start with would make it easier for parents to settle on a name, but that wasn’t so for Kolkata-based Radhika Bose Makkar who took 5 months to name her daughter. “We had the letter. Her name had to start with ‘S’ but we couldn’t find anything suitable. We asked our parents and friends to give in their suggestions so we had a shortlist. But it still took us so long to give her a name,” laughs Radhika.

She says she finally settled on her choice, ‘Suhasini’, because it sounded pretty. “Nowadays you have names that are short and filmi like Sana and Saanaya which were some of the options we were given. But I didn’t like any of them. We didn’t want a very common name either. The meaning was also important to me, so we settled for Suhasini that means beautiful smile.”
Many parents specifically look for names that cannot be corrupted or twisted into a nickname. Sunalika says her husband did not want a nickname for the baby or a name that might get distorted into a shorter one along the way, which is another reason they chose Aranis.

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