Punjabi names go global at home and abroad
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Punjabi names go global at home and abroad

Though many Punjabis have long had nicknames like Happy, Rosy, Sweetie and Prince, the difference is that now the change is coming in first name or real name as we call it

punjab Updated: Jul 15, 2017 21:19 IST
Nirupama Dutt
Nirupama Dutt
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab,Punjabi names,Punjabis abroad
The present pursuit for global names is seen by many as linked to aspirations of living or rather settling down abroad.(Diljeet Kaur Sandhu)

Christine, Reuben, Sarah, Amy or Kevin: these names are no longer alien to the Punjabi soil. With the dollar, education abroad and immigration dream being cherished across the state, it is little wonder that western names have started replacing the ethnic names.

Although many Punjabis have long had nicknames like Happy, Rosy, Sweetie, Prince and more, the difference is that now the change is coming in the first name or the real name as we call it.

A writer from Ludhiana named his 10-year-old daughter studying in a city school Christine and the reason he gives for doing so is: “I wanted her to have a different name. My family did not agree to an Urdu name, so I decided on Christine. The name will also help her when she goes abroad to study”.

A young man from a Sangrur village, whose aim is to go and drive trailers in Canada for the money it will bring, reveals happily that his niece has a ‘foreign’ name. “My cousin is in Australia and he sent us the name from there and thus we named the baby Ashleen”.

Recently, an invitation card for a party here to bless a new arrival, said: ‘Amy is here’.

Some dismiss it as a trend that existed in the colonial India when Christian names were much in vogue in Patiala where the many children of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh had names such as Greeta, Wendy, Susie, Eric, Brian, Peter, Paul and so on. One of the reasons ascribed to it was that children of the Indian elite were brought up by European nannies who could not pronounce the native names.

This trend extended to English-medium public schools and convents where Harinder would be nicknamed Harry, Maninder Mandy, Lakhvinder Lucky and Sandeep Sandy.

However, the present pursuit for global names is seen by many as linked to aspirations of living or rather settling down abroad.


A cultural observer points out that socio-economic reasons often play a role in the naming of children. He says that after the annexation of Punjab by the British in 1849, Sikhs were given preference in the armed forces. It was common for Hindus to make their first-born child a Sikh and this was also the time when names such as Jarnail Singh, Karnail Singh or Major Singh became popular.

Patiala-based cultural-linguist Surjit Lee is of the opinion that the need for assimilation in the new country and its people is leading to the naming of children with more universally accepted names. This is also happening in other states of India and other Asian countries.

London-based Punjabi poet Amarjit Chandan says “There is a lot to names. Baby names reflect the sense and sensibility of their parents, particularly their identity. Naming a newborn is not easy anymore; more so in the diaspora. You have to have the names which are easier to pronounce, distortion-free (for example, Deeksha becomes Dick shaa.), with soft dental sounds of d, bh, and are simple.”

He adds, “I named my grandchildren as Aneel and Leela. I have to explain to my relations that the names are from Gurbani. Very few people know the meanings and etymology of their own names. In the UK, many Punjabi children suffer taunts in the school playgrounds because of their names. For example Charanjit becomes Chranjee. Sikh unisex first names are more problematic”.


Mispronunciation and distortion of names is another factor guiding this trend. Former Panjab University professor Paramjeet Tewari, who now lives with her son and his family in New Zealand, says: “We had named our son so lovingly Kabir, after the much-loved Indian poet whose verses are an integral part of the Guru Granth Sahib. It was painful when his colleagues here called him Kabar of Kabaar. So we chose the names Reuben and Noah for the grandchildren”.

She adds that Chinese students are wise to take on Christian names as soon as they arrive. “In New Zealand, an alternate name is recognised for academic pursuits, jobs and even immigration,” she says.

The final word to this continuing name-game is by Punjabi poet Surjit Patar, who has keenly been noting the changes over time in his beloved mother tongue. He first quotes Shakespeare ‘What’s in a name? But follows it up saying, “In Punjabi one of the challenges is ‘If this does not happen thus, then change my name’! So the name is something precious.”

He recounts how a telephone operator pronounced his name as ‘Suzie Pata’ for a collect call at Heathrow Airport and his cousin rejected the collect call as he did not know anyone by that name.

“In spite of the challenges,” Patar pronounces, “Globalisation and economics should not make us so deprived that we switch over to English names. We should keep our names simple and short as was done in Punjabi, before Patiala state complicated matters by giving names like Yadavinder or Malwinder!”

First Published: Jul 15, 2017 21:19 IST