A Name is a Name is a Name……

‘A Name is a name is a name’ and I strongly believe this. Alright, I have modified the very famous quotation of ‘Rose is a rose is a rose’ by Gertrude Stein to suit my requirement. But, roses and names are not as simple as they are made out to be, or are they?

And this is the exact reason, why I feel that pronouncing Indian names properly and accurately by both Indians and foreigners alike, makes one ‘More Indian Than You Think’. 

I have always had a ‘love-hate’ relationship with my handful of names. A handful, did I say?! Yes, most of us- Indians (especially the South Indians) who were born before the advent of numerous channels and internet had at least three names – An official name (so-called original name), alias name, and a pet name. And I am no different.

How about the children who were born post the advent of the Internet? Well, the parenting sites suggest names that are uncomplicated, simple, and ‘so-called’ quirky and modern. And the would-be parents lap it up!

I did, and still have a tough time explaining the nuances of South Indian naming pattern, especially of Tamizhians to people while I am travelling and foreign clients when they ask me. Whenever I do this, I feel like a Taxonomist who deals with the Classification of animals into Species, Genus et al. It sounds strange to these friends that I do not have a Surname and that many of us have our Father’s or Mother’s name as our Initials (last name). They look baffled and start wearing an uncanny expression as if deciphering an alien language!

To avoid self-torture, I usually restrain from giving out my full name to foreign clients. I stick with just ‘Meenakshi / Meenu ’

Did you know?

  • In some exceptional cases, we Indians also have our Paternal Grandfather’s name as an add-on.
  • A variance of the above can be either an addition of the village name/family name/caste / sub-caste etc etc.,
  • This is done not to torture the children but is a way of remembering the names of our forefathers and our roots. Simple and effective ways turned complicated in today’s quick and fast world.

For readers with the same mysterious look on your face upon reading this- here is a formula to crack this mystery.

Initial (first letter of father’s name/ in some cases- grandfather’s name) + first name = south Indian name

i.e., I + F = N (Bingo! )

However, the first name can be the same as grandfather’s / grandmother’s name too… Then the above formula will work only with the father’s name. O.K.,.I get your expression of ‘whatever!’ So, let us move on…

We South Indians, especially gain our ‘Moment of Fame’ ( or cringe) when our full names are called out or when we introduce ourselves in front of an audience. For example, I remember that as a child I used to cringe when someone called out my full name and asked ‘What do I call you? Meenakshi or Jayaraman’ and at that moment, I used to decide the amount of gray matter a person had! Because, how do I deal with a person who does not know the difference between feminine and masculine name!

So, apart from the mental trauma of explaining my name, what made me dislike it during my growing up years?

First and foremost, it sounded old fashioned and I had many aunties and grannies by name ‘Meenakshi’ in our family. Do not fret, this is as normal as eating Roti for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner in North India and as casual as sipping champagne for water in Paris! Secondly, the fact that every other girl in the town where I was born, ‘was’ and ‘is’ named ‘Meenakshi’ and Why? Well, I was born in Madurai and the city is world-famous for the ‘Meenakshi Temple’. Sigh!

A Twist in Tale

I guess it was during my stint in an MNC a decade back, that I actually started taking pride in my name and wanted to prove to others that pronouncing Indian especially South Indian names makes me conclude a person to be NOT intellectually challenged!

It was the year 2004 and we had just gone ops (Operational) on the floor and were assigned our clients. I was into the Technical Team of a Software Giant and nervous to the bits. For the first few days, we were using simple alias names and then had switched to our original names. This was a bit hard on the clients who could not pronounce our Indian names as they found it too complicated. They wanted us to shorten our names and made us take up shorter and easier for them to pronounce names.

That is when I and some of my friends felt that enough is enough, and we spoke to the Project head and then to the higher authorities and made sure we could use our First names. I guess, this was one instance where I and my friends took pride in we – being Indians and did not shy away from proving to the world that we are #MoreIndianThanYouThink

This was also the time I was reading Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’. Taking a leaf out of this book, and inspired by the way- the protagonist sacrifices his life to save the identity of his race and land, I  sort of made sure to upkeep my identity by not letting my full name be hijacked and replaced by alien-sounding syllables!


When the same clients came to visit us in India, the Indianness in me made sure to accord them a Swagatham/warm welcome and make them feel at home in a diverse culture like India.

I guess it is the concept and belief of ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’, that has been inculcated in us since our childhood and all through time immemorial in our culture, that, we Indians open our hearts and home to every visitor and overwhelm them with love and affection! Ironically, this also is the reason why so many foreigners have invaded India since time immemorial to establish their empires in this wonderful country and WE have never invaded any of the countries ever!

My actions and reactions, all my endeavours to prove that I am more Indian than others think, have been different and varied according to the age and the phase of my life. I am sure it is the same as most of us, isn’t it?

If it was attending the Republic Day and Independence Day celebrations during the school days to prove my patriotism, then joining the NCC (National Cadet Corps) during the college was a proud moment. If it was resolving not to succumb to the temptation of Western music during the teens by opting to learn an Indian Classical Instrument of Veena, then it was resolving to work only in India during the early adulthood! Now, when I look back, all this sounds so silly.

Because, I know that I may travel the whole of the world, taste the cuisines of the world, visit the most beautiful cities, however, the Indian-ness from Indians cannot be isolated and separated! I am bound to fly back to India on Lufthansa because ‘Home is Where the Heart Is’.

The Legacy Continues…

Thankfully, I am at a comfortable age, with my Indian sensibilities intact, where I know that even if my son indulges in Pizza and Burgers, he will ultimately find solace in home-made Indian food. He may like Soccer or NBA for some time but will come back to watching Cricket {because his mom is a cricket fanatic and it is a religion for Indians;) } , he may be attracted to the western probiotics being advertised, but will soon realize that there is no alternative to the comfort of curd rice/Thaiyir saadham , he may spend euros on the best of the European coffees but will come back to relish the ‘Filter Kaapi/ Garam Chai’ and also, he may find loads of virtual friends but will realize that his big-joint-Indian family is waiting to hear to his stories, back home.

Unfortunately, he may be a witness to the backlash towards people of different ethnicity and religions around the world, but he knows that his friends back in India come from varied backgrounds and religions, as India is a diverse and secular country. He may not find it strange to celebrate festivals of other religions when he goes abroad, as, since childhood, he has been part of a Ganpati Visarjan, and Id-ul-Fitr, and a Christmas with equal fervour.

Yes, he may watch all the shows of the American Superheroes but will always find his strength in the stories of the Indian superheroes-Mahatma, Bose and Azad; he may be tempted to join the NASA but will be inspired by Kalam to stay back in India and finally, he, as an Indian will inspire others to visit India and take a liking to the Indian culture wherever he travels.

Parting words

I know that I may not react in the same way now, as I used to – in my teens, to prove my ‘Indianness’ but still I am a little touchy when it comes to pronouncing my name! Like me, my son too does not like his name and wants to change it to ‘Ronaldo/Hazard’, though his first name is shorter at least by two letters than mine :p

But, I am sure he will realize soon as his mother did, that indeed ‘ A Name is a name is a name’ and it makes an Indian feel #MoreIndianThanYouThink

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1 Comment

  1. Vishal Potdar says:

    Hahaha.. Nice article J. Minakshi (is name right) . I had also always wondered abt South Indian names. And after joining chennai HQ based comoany, riddle is solved. One question still remains is does south Indians hv surname also?? Natrajan is middle name or last name of ppl? Full name of Cricketer VVS Laxman is Vengi Purapu Venkat Sai laxman. Can you decode it?

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