Saturday, May 24, 2014

Nominal matters: Issue 1
“Grand”fathers making a name for themselves (and family)

Vanakkam. What’s happening to Tamil names, in particular, surnames / “last names”? In the melee of Indian surnames which acknowledged profession/caste/place of origin, and placed themselves before/during/after the first/given name, Tamil nomenclature stood out as fresh and only need-to-know informative. Your first name followed/preceded by your father’s first name, altered for most women by matrimony to your first name followed by your husband’s. Caste/ place/ profession, thank you, no mention.
Celebrities often added the place, vide Umayalpuram Kasiviswanatha Sivaraman or Elamanur Madhavan Bhargava. Others replaced the father’s name with the caste, e.g.  Kalpana Iyer, Venkatesh Iyengar. Some introduced the place and caste, and dispensed with the father’s name, e.g., Madurai Mani Iyer. Some, free from constraining character-limits, piled the place and caste to the father’s name and their own, vide Ariyakkudi Tiruvengadam Ramanuja Iyengar.
Some name layouts are a little confusing at first. Take Viswanathan Anand, whose wife is Aruna Anand, and son Akhil Anand. It would seem that he is distributing his father’s name all over his nuclear family, but no – Viswanathan is his father’s name. He merely places it before his given name Anand, which placement is the tradition that is getting somewhat disturbed now, with the insistence on “last names” following “first names”. Had it been strapped up as “V. Anand”, nobody would have batted an eyelid, realising clearly that V was his father’s name.
In the past few decades, Tamil first names they are a-changing: first, the doors have been thrown wide open to Sanskrit-via-Hindi names. The Elangovans, Ezhilarasis and Maragadams are bound for the history books. “-an” has been and is declining rapidly: Yesterday’s Raghavan is today’s Raghav, and he will pick Rohit over Senthil for his son’s name. The Divyas and Ramyas of today are ceding ground to the Diyas and Rias of tomorrow. And slowly (and small-ly) at the moment, surnames are changing too – in the direction of constancy. The Tamil grandfather of today’s Tamil baby is bequeathing his name to all posterity, literally. He getting his name etched in indelible ink/laser print, on passports, certificates and forms, as the surname of everyone in the family who follows him – his sons, (perhaps) their wives, and their kids, (perhaps) wives of said kids, and grandkids… All these perhapses because Tamil women, with all their non-Tamil sisters, are increasingly not as gung-ho about adopting their husbands’ names as sticking to their birth names (in this case their fathers’). So we have a Govindarajan Kothandaraman marrying an Apsara Gopalarathnam, not catalysing a name change despite the acknowledged chemistry ;), and going on to name two little ones Vibha Govindarajan and Srinath Govindarajan.
I wonder what pressure forms (and form-generators) put on parents who pick a grandfather’s name, and share and share alike: Perhaps surnames within the family have GOT to coincide, or else. If your name is AB and your child’s not –B, it’s not your child!! So we may find that a Mahesh Ramanathan’s wife calls herself Kamakshi Ramanathan, and their child is a Rahul Ramanathan, whose kids are Aryan Ramanathan and Akanksha Ramanathan.

Note: I thank all my friends whose names (and their fathers’, of course!) I have used here. I don’t need to thank celebrities, except the ones who are my friends J, and that I’ve already done ibid. The other names are made up, and any resemblance to an actual family is coincidental, though not unintended.

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