Saturday, April 15, 2017

What is in a name?

What is in a name?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”  This is a famous quote attributed to Shakespeare. The implication is that names do not matter but the persons are important. To my mind, a person’s name is just to identify him so that we may be certain as to whom we are referring to.  Adding a surname or family name is a sort of ‘individualising’ effort. Heard of ‘disambiguation’ in Wikipedia? That sort of attempt, it is.

There is nothing to boast of in a family name. Your family name may indicate a great lineage. Unless you are also befitting enough by your deeds to share the glory and fame, boasting of a familiar family name is living in borrowed glory or sharing a shadow effect without efforts. It is like saying proudly “I am from Stephens (Delhi)”; what are you on your own? Have you done anything to be a “Stephanite” yourself? Substitute Stephens with IIT and you will see what I am saying.

Attaching undue importance to one’s name is an imported idea from the west. Right from Dale Carnegie to Class room psychology teacher, all of them  have dinned into us: “Sweetest thing one would like to hear is one’s name”. Most salesmen training courses stress that you should address a person by his name. It is a myth created by western scientists. This is / was not really true. We have accepted / imbibed it without introspection.

Look at artists, scientists, architects, sculptors etc of ancient India. Thousands of their works are standing today without revealing who produced them.  Temples, idols, gardens, paintings – cannot list them all. Our ancestors knew that we are valued for what we are intrinsically worth and not for our names. Kings are an exception – they are full of bloated ego; even the most enlightened among them could not get over the temptation of perpetuating their names. Why were they so egoistic? They had enormous self-thrust powers to ruin the life of any citizen. They were more feared than respected.

My name is Padmanabha Vyasamoorthy. Vyasamoorthy is my personal name (given name). My father is Padmanabhan. To indicate that I am Padmanabhan’s son, terminal n is deleted. This practice is an adaptation of Tamil grammar / culture. Many people change my name as they wish: Vyasa, Vyasya, Vysa, Vyshya, Moorthy, Moorthi, Moorti, Murti, Murthy, Murthi, Vyas murthy etc etc. I do not mind this at all. If someone is serious in knowing my ’correct’ name it is there as a part of my signature. “Correct” name is that which is in official records. That’s it.

You should not bother how somebody writes, pronounces or spells your name. Mainly because, there could be thousands of such people. You cannot reach and teach everyone. Each one’s background, interest and ability to understand nuances of naming practice will be different. It is futile and not worth it. On the other hand if you learn to live in a practical world, you will at least not be unhappy.

Same thing applies to titular prefixes. Fellows who retired from the Army, Navy and the like (uniformed services) are too sensitive.  Of course the law permits to hang on to it. The question is: how long can you carry a dead title? After death, what? Can’t we see the ephemerality of life starring at us?

Finally I agree that one should not call you names. As long as that is ensured everything else is OK

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