Names are just for identification. Or so we think. Indian families strain themselves and their brains to choose names for their children. But names so carefully chosen become villains for many unfortunate souls. Some find it so embarrassing to pronounce their names that they say them slouchingly with clouds of reluctance and nervous smiles. Some inherit their grandparents’ names with or without property. Many think it proper to show gratitude to elders by naming their children after them. What is repaid to the departed souls becomes a burden to the living ones! English-speaking women of the 21st century, clad in faded and torn jeans, walk with discomfiture bearing names such as Alamelu, Subbulakshmi, Thayamma, Palaniammal and Pappathi. First-generation graduates from villages, who are forced to emulate their metropolitan brethren, bear names such as Karuppan, Theerthamalai, Mariappan, Arthanari and Karuppanasamy with little pleasure.
Then there are some peculiar names that created for neither rhyme nor reason and give headaches to the people bearing them. In the days when family-planning techniques were unknown, people resorted to strange illogical methods to stop producing children, rather than making real attempts themselves. Sometimes girls are named Mangalam denoting “the end”. But unfortunately some are forced to name their daughters Mangalam I, Mangalam II and so on.
If a couple remains childless for a long period after marriage, their families make many novel offers to God to get His blessings. Thus if a child is born after such a vow, it is named Pitchai, meaning a “dole”. For them their gratitude is promptly repaid to God. But the child has to bear such a name forever with pain. Sometimes people take a vow that they will give the name of God to their children if blessed with progeny. Votive names such as Karuppanasamy, Muneeswaran, and Abhithakujambal are the results of such vows.
There are many more interesting names which defy all logic. For example, a horse-cart owner who lived near our ancestral house was called by everybody Oosi, literally meaning a “needle”. Nobody could find the reason for that name. He was called so till his death. Other names such as Poochhi (meaning insect), Kutti (small) also belong to this category.
Worse still, sometimes beautiful names are converted to ugly phrases for the sake of convenience. Thus Krishnamurthis are invariably called Kittu, Kitta or Kichha and Parthasarathis are cruelly called Pachha. Unfortunate Padmanabhans are fondly called Padhhu or Padhha. They sometimes forget their original names after living with these pet names for decades!