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The bizarre new world of baby names

From Gilgamesh to Bee, baby names are often inscrutable

brunch Updated: Apr 21, 2018 22:52 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
world of baby names,Baby Names,new baby boy names
The many horrors of life seem worse if your name implies you are someone you’re definitely not!(Photo Imaging: Parth Garg )

Gilgamesh. That’s the name of an ancient Mesopotamian epic that many consider to be the oldest surviving work of great literature. It is also the name of a person I have heard of. Imagine the struggles such a name implies for its owner. It’s like trying to earn your place in an epic. In fact it’s worse. It’s like you’re the epic. The many horrors and ignominies that life inflicts must seem worse to one named Odysseus Kumar or Poseidon Chatterji. Why do parents do this?

I hereby change my name to…

I’m one of three children named rather traditionally. Equally traditionally, I’ve never taken to my name. It doesn’t help that for most of my life I’ve been asked by jocular uncles and aunties: “Rehana Sultan?” followed by a giggle. This is a reference to a ’70s Hindi film actress known for her “bold” roles. These days I’m increasingly asked, “Rihanna?” Apart from the fact that on migraine days I look like a pop star in rehab, there is no resemblance other than the similar-sounding names. And yet that’s who I’m eternally bound to. Like it or not, we’re under the same umbrella, ella, ella.

I have a moniker that I find far more reflective of my personality. But it isn’t exactly conducive to a setting that isn’t strictly personal. In the realm of Piku, Chiku and Kuku, it aptly conveys the suddenness and raggedness that are my defining qualities. So in that department, I consider myself lucky. My older sister has been cursed with three different names on her birth certificate, a result of a three-way family dispute. To add to the melee, different family members have anointed her with their own pet names, ranging from the infantile to the onomatopoeic. There’s nothing poetic about her response to this abundance. She even had to officially change her name, just to eliminate the extras. Quelle horreur.

Mangoes and saints

Every few years, a fresh swell of names emerges that parents pick from for their kids. Of Ananyas and Anushkas, Shanayas and Pias, Dhruvs and Kabirs, Veers and Neels. Often you find a few kids who answer to the same name in one classroom, as if the entire database were depleting. Names commonly reflect the aspirations of parents. Sometimes, they reflect their multiple personalities. What else would explain one child being named Dinesh and the other Lily? (Names changed to close approximations to protect friendships.)

Then there’s the other sort. They name the fruit of their loins after other evocative objects and concepts. I know of a Vuvuzela. And another Mango. My niece duly informs me that Anna Wintour (editor-in-chief of US Vogue) has named her daughter Bee in the tradition of Gwynyth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s Apple. The Kardashian-West progeny answer to North, Saint and Chicago. And Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott’s newborn has been christened Stormi Webster (But who are these people?!) I know Jonty Rhodes’ daughter is named India. Right.

Number names

Speaking of India, let’s spare a thought for numerology, that most exact of sciences that guarantees a change of destiny with a few altered consonants and syllables. Perhaps there’s a sizeable difference in the bank account of Ajay Devgan and Ajay Devgn, but to the sane observer the dropped ‘a’ is plainnnn insayn. Makes you look at those who have Bollywoodified their names instead of massacring their spellings with a kind of fondness. I wonder what the Yusuf Khans and Rajeev Bhatias think of their rechristening through the lens of time. As a pointless exercise or an essential reason for their success.

Names evoke all kinds of responses, from the tender to the tendentious. And what you choose to name your kid becomes everybody’s business. The same everybody who isn’t going to show up when you need a babysitter. When the namee is famous, it’s a free-for-all. The Taimur controversy showed how the national conversation can spiral into a kind of madness worse than any Central Asian despot could have devised. There’s some relief in the fact that Dr Saint Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insaan is away in prison for his crimes, not the least of which is his self-gifted title. My fervent suggestion to parents: sometimes The Big Book of Baby Names is the best route to naming your child something she or he won’t curse you for. That which you call a Vuvuzela would by any other name ring as loud.

From HT Brunch, April 22, 2018

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