What’s in a name| Christine Kaur, anyone? 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 16, 2017 09:45 IST
Nirupama Dutt
Nirupama Dutt
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
(Illustration by Daljeet Kaur Sandhu/HT)

Christine, 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.

Though many Punjabis have long had nicknames like Happy, Rosy, Sweetie, the difference is that now the change is coming in the ‘real’ name.

A writer from Ludhiana named his 10-year-old daughter Christine: “I wanted her to have a different name. My family did not agree to an Urdu name; so, Christine! It will help her when she goes abroad.”

A young man from Sangrur, aiming to drive trailers in Canada, beams that his niece has a ‘foreign’ name. “A cousin in Australia sent us ‘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 colonial India when Christian names were in vogue in Patiala where the many children of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh had names such as Greeta, Wendy, Susie, Eric. One reason was that the European nannies could not pronounce native names.

This extended to Englishmedium public schools and convents where Harinder would be nicknamed Harry.

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

A cultural observer says socio-economic reasons play a role. After annexation of Punjab by the British in 1849, Sikhs were given preference in the armed forces. It was common for Hindus to make their firstborn a Sikh; this was when names such as Jarnail Singh and Major Singh came up.

Cultural-linguist Surjit Lee from Patiala says the need for assimilation in a new country is leading to more “universally accepted” names. It is happening for other countries too.

London-based Punjabi poet Amarjit Chandan says “Baby names reflect the parents’ sense and sensibility, and their identity. Naming a newborn is not easy now; more so in the diaspora. You need names that are easier to pronounce and are not distorted — Deeksha becomes Dick-shaa!”

“I named my grandchildren Aneel and Leela. I have to tell relatives the names are from Gurbani. Very few people know meanings and etymology of their names. In the UK, many Punjabi children suffer taunts because of their names. Sikh unisex first names are more problematic,” he says.

Mispronunciation remains a factor. Former professor Paramjeet Tewari, who now lives in New Zealand, says: “Colleagues of our son Kabir called him Kabar. We chose Reuben and Noah for the grandchildren.”

She adds that Chinese students are wise to take on Christian names as soon as they arrive. “Here, alternate names are recognised for academics, jobs, even immigration.”

The final word is by Punjabi poet Surjit Patar, who quotes Shakespeare — ‘What’s in a name?’ — but follows it up: “In Punjabi one of the challenges in bets is: ‘If this does not happen thus, you can change my name’! The name is precious.”

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

First Published: Jul 16, 2017 09:31 IST