Monday, October 20, 2008
Naming a child has always been a thorny enterprise. How do you put all of the love, hope and meaning of having a baby into one name that will identify your spawn for life? It's hard enough to do. But for our generation of Indians brought up and living in the West, it's even more challenging. We want to come up with names that can be enunciated by maitre d's and grandmothers alike, but that have a beautiful, deep meaning.
We can all think of names that were mauled by grade school teachers and/or taunted by fifth-grade bullies. (To all the "Anils" and "Hardiks" out there, I apologize on behalf of your parents.) I’m thankful that I don’t have that problem. My father got my name from a Bollywood hit song which had the lyric, "Monica, oh my darling…." Even though I’ve received my fair share of "What's your Indian name? Your real name?" comments, I'm still grateful to Asha Bhosle for singing that song. But for all the Indian Monicas I know, my name remains a firmly western one – never possessing a Sanskrit or Persian root or meaning, therefore never fully incorporated into the naming culture of the subcontinent and its diasporas.
Aiming to meet those two naming objectives -- pronounceable yet profound -- some of us have become creative. We’ve searched books and websites for names that have crossover appeal, and found names like Milan, Maya, Dhillon, Tara, Krishan, Devin, Roshan, Amaya. It's also important to us that people pronounce these names with the accent on the right syllable, engendering a set of names with double a's (Armaan, Aadesh, Kaayva).
Others have gone as far west as possible without alienating grandparents: Jay, Neil, Sara, Julie, Sophie. Still others have stuck to pronounceable classics: Arjun, Anjali, Shreya, Krishna.
Certain names are probably lost to us forever. Like all those lovely, funny names of our ancestors. I doubt I'll receive an email announcing the birth of Saraswati, Suryakant, Sushrata or Satinder any time soon. I'll probably never seriously entertain the thought of naming my child after my grandmother, Sulochna, or my grandfather, Shantilal. It's too bad, because those names have such gorgeous meanings: Sulochna means beautiful eyes, and Shantilal means peaceful.
The problem is, there are only so many pronounceable-yet-profound names. Thus, the glut of similar names -- I've lost count of how many Anyas and Akashes I know. And, of course, you have to stay away from names chosen by close friends and family. (Why did I name my cousin's son "Devin"? Now I won't be able to use it!)
But still, I'm glad no one is resorting to "Peter" or "Rebecca" just yet.