From the time David Bowie called his son Zowie, thus creating the striking if implausible name Zowie Bowie, I’ve been fascinated by strange or unusual monikers. Each time I come across one I make a little effort to remember it. And the surprising part is they’re not as rare as you might think. You can find them all over the world. In fact, my colleague Mohammed Reyaz has found at least six separate websites dedicated to the recording of odd ball names. I’m sure there must be more.
First, however, to a country I know and have lived in which exalts and delights in novel and amazing names: Nigeria. The President is called Goodluck Jonathan and he’s certainly aptly named. No one expected him to get the top job but when Umaru Yar’adua, his predecessor, suddenly fell ill and died, good luck favoured
Jonathan. Then, in need of a Vice President, he found the remarkably named Namadi Sambo. Now, if ever there was a name you would not expect to find in Africa, this must be it. After all, Namadi’s surname has a slang dimension which must be hurtful to Nigerian ears even if the unkind might consider it prescient and suitable.
The truth is the Nigerian penchant for memorable names is common and widespread. You’ll find hundreds of southerners called Monday, Friday or Sunday. In fact I’m told you can meet men named after every day of the week. At least in Lagos there’s nothing unusual about this. But, occasionally, you will also find a chirpy, smiling youth called Good News and even, believe it or not, a surly youngster christened Big Problem. I presume their parents could foretell how their progeny would develop.
Now, Kris Srinivasan, who served as High Commissioner in Zambia in the 1970s, says he’s met several lads called Pencil and Crayon whilst Pertie, who spent decades in French West Africa, once had a cook called Bona Ventura which means good fortune. Alas, this had no bearing on the man’s culinary skills.
But before you conclude such names are an African novelty, check out the net and you’ll find there are thousands in the English speaking parts of the world. Reyaz did a quick check and found the following: Al Kaholic, Dill Doe, Geri Attrick, Stu Pid, Tad Pole, April Showers, Dick Israel Small — actually there’s no dearth of double entendre names with Dick in them. But Reyaz also found a Mr. Al Gebra, a Mr. George Washington Bridge, a Miss Dee Vine and a Mrs. Kitty Litter. Bizarre, wouldn’t you agree?
In India, our parents are not so imaginative — or do I mean so indiscrete? Try hard as I have, I can’t find too many novel names. But I have come across a few. Bishen Singh Bedi, out of admiration for Sunil Gavaskar, named his son Gavasinder Singh. A professor at Jamia in the geography department is called Rocket Ibrahim and the redoubtable Kris Srinivasan tells me there is a Gujarati motel owner’s son in America called Cretin.
This makes the Lalu Prasad family somewhat unique. His wife and sister-in-law are Rabri and Jalebi whilst his daughter is called Misa, after the Maintenance of Internal Security Act under which he was arrested in 1975.
Finally, a little secret: whenever I’m playing pranks on the phone, misleading people who’ve called a wrong number, I call myself King Kong Ahluwalia. No one has so far questioned the plausibility of that name.
The views expressed by the author are personal