We may be a diverse country of a billion plus but our names are an instant giveaway. The mere mention tells others about the region we hail from, our caste and even the era to which we belong.
For instance, in urban Hindu families of the 1930s and '40s, newborns were named after gods and goddesses. So now we have many senior citizens called Sitaram, Lakshmi Devi, Krishan Lal, Krishna Rani and Girdhari Lal.
The names of girls born in the 21st century are shorter than earlier and somehow parents have started preferring Urdu names such as Mehak, Palak, Arzoo, Inayat, Niyamat and Muskan. Girls born in the 1970s and '80s were generally named Savita, Geeta, Aarti and Ritu.
In the rural areas of Punjab, children in the farming community were often named after trees such as Kikar Singh, Buta Singh and Tehal Singh. Punjabis are a martial race and it is a tradition for boys to join the defence forces.
So parents would ensure they started early with names like Kaptan Singh, Major Singh, Karnail Singh, Laftane Singh and Jarnail Singh. I am yet to come across Armoured Kaur though.
In this part of the country, names can sometimes lead to confusion about the gender of the person. In 1978, for instance, when I took admission in the veterinary college at Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana, my name, Kirti Dua, and that of my friend, Mahdukesh Palta, was displayed on the notice board.
There was excitement in the air as the students presumed two girls were joining the veterinary course, which had not seen any student from the fair sex till then. Their disappointment was apparent when they found two boys with misleading names had joined the course instead.
Roll numbers in class are in an alphabetic order so Satbir Singh and Sukhcharanjit Singh, who were invariably the last to answer the roll call, realised the hard way that they would have to spend longer in anxiety for the viva voce exam.
Sometimes, they would have to wait till late in the evening. No wonder they decided their children should be spared the agony and ensured their names started with the alphabet start 'A'.
One of my friends, Teza Singh, used to be upset that his parents had not given him a "decent name". He felt Teza suited truck drivers more. So he went on to get his name changed to Tejwant Singh but in the class he was always called Teza.
Sometimes parents get impressed with certain personalities and decide to name their children after them. A friend named his son Rustam as he was impressed with a handsome senior by that name, while another classmate named his daughter Era after an elegant lady on the campus.
One of my friends is called Waisaka Singh. Once he was asked how he got such a unique name. He said he was born on Baisakhi and his grandfather gave him the name. "Thank God, you weren't born on Lohri," quipped another classmate.