His ineffable effable/Effanineffable/Deep and inscrutable singular name. — The Naming of Cats, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, T.S. Eliot.
The hunt began five months before the event. When Gargi was pregnant with her first child four years ago, the family left no stone or website unturned for a name. It must be a short, handy name that would not burden its owner. It must cause no inconvenience abroad (the parents were in Australia then). It must have a contemporary ring. Yet, it must be traditional.
“Every day my sister would search sites on the Net, make a list and mail it to us. We also talked about it on the phone over the weekend,” says Ratnabali Bhattacharjee, Gargi’s sister. The family members looked up three or four baby-name books, thought of favourite characters from storybooks and of people they were fond of. “Every evening we sat and discussed which names were nice and which were not. We drew up a shortlist, but it was still pretty long,” remembers Ratnabali.
Finally, the day before the birth, the family landed on the name: Oormi. “You can’t go wrong with Oormi,” says Ratnabali. “Having suffered long names we decided to keep it short, especially as she lived abroad and we did not want her to go through the trouble of correcting people all the time,” adds Ratnabali. “Oormi means a wave; my niece is a Piscean...”
The couple went through the same process before their son was born a year later. This time an astrologer told them the name had to start with a “D” and they settled on Dhruv. (Oormi’s name was changed from Urmi, too, on the advice of an astrologer.)
Naming a baby is no longer simple. Gone are the days when Thakurda carelessly named the child “Arun” or “Amitkanti” or “Ashok”. Naming is now a matter of much thinking, strategy and aesthetics. The baby’s name, for contemporary urban couples, is the first personal ID to effect a smooth entry into the highly competitive, globalised world ahead.
A popular source for names today is not gods and goddesses, nor the family, but the Internet, where websites and links like www.iloveindia.com/babynames, www.matrimonialbank.com/babynames.html or www.indiaparenting.com thrive. There are 9,810,000 hits for Indian names in 0.23 seconds (1,200,000 for Bengali names) on Google.
Baby-name book sales are on the rise and the most wanted is Hindu Names by Maneka Gandhi. “There has been an increase in the demand, mostly from people who don’t have access to the Internet,” says a sales executive at the Oxford Bookstore.
“The most important reason is that parents want their children’s names to be different from others,” says lexicographer Ashoke Mukhopadhyay. “The trend has changed drastically, especially among middle-class Bengalis. Names like Priyamvada and Mrinalini are coming back now.”
The trend seems to pull in two directions. One set of parents would like short, sweet, easy, “universal-Indian” names, like Oormi, Neha, Rahul or Abhishek. Or Snehil. Says Shikha Raghav, mother of 13-year-old Snehil: “It means affectionate and this is the name that came to our minds after he was born. Moreover, we needed something different to stand out.”
The other set of parents would look for imaginative, unique, traditional or traditional-sounding Indian names in keeping with a new trendiness. Names like Priyamvada or Mrinalini or Sarbajaya or Saimantika or Katyayani, all of which are not required to be etymologically correct and which would easily turn into the Anglicised abbreviations of Pri or Mri or Sam or Katy in the peer group.
Tanish Mitra’s name was found this way. The one-and-a-half-year-old’s parents searched the Net and the books for babies’ names and consulted relatives. “At last a relative found the name from a name book,” says Subrata Mitra, Tanish’s father. Sukanya, Tanish’s elder sister, was supposed to be named Sannanti or Sanasthita (names from the Upanishads). But the idea was dropped as the parents thought they would be too tough for the child to spell or even pronounce.
Pranaadhika Sinha, director, operations, Opus Global Suggestions, is proud of her name. It comes from a poem written by her father’s aunt. “In Tripura, we have a tradition of feminine names ending with ‘ka’. My name is also quite unusual. We were looking for a name and I suddenly came across Pranaadhika. It sounded beautiful and unusual,” explains mother Kirtika.
Lexicographer Mukhopadhyay also points out the influence of numerology, famous personalities and movie stars. The right name will bring luck. So, the practice of consulting an astrologer or numerologist before naming a child has gone up. Some parents go with the kundali and ask what the first letter of the name should be. Others choose the name and then ask the numerologist to juggle the letters for the lucky number.
“The pandit told us to give a name starting with V to our daughter. We hit the Internet to search for something that had a nice meaning and was easy to pronounce. We settled for Vandita,” says Poushali Mittal, mother of the four-year-old.
The earthly stars exercise their own influence. After hundreds of Amartyas and Souravs, it is not uncommon now to find toddler Aishwaryas growing up all over Calcutta. There is even a trend to name children after popular TV serial characters, from Aditya to Laksh.
The alphabetical order is also crucial. Many parents prefer the first letters of the alphabet, to give their children the first-called advantage — in school, college and possibly at interviews. So Aryaman will score over Biman as a new-age name as well as its positional advantage on the roster.
Paperwork is another consideration. “We named our son Srayan, which apart from being uncommon and having a nice meaning (support), is also short. We went for a short name because it would be easier to write and long names don’t always fit into the numerous forms we have to fill throughout our lives,” laughs Debjani Bhattacharya, mother of the three-year-old.
Blame it on globalisation: certain neutral names have suddenly gained currency. The name Neel, for example. There are so many Neels around and their names do equally well in any culture, ‘Bangali or Phirang’.
But ultimately it is the spirit of reckless adventure of the parents that leads to certain names. Calcutta always had its share of the extraordinary — names like Shyamsohagini Emily Ranee Ghose, or Neelakasheektitara Das, or brothers Lenin, Stalin and Bulganin Roy or sisters Shyamalimaya, Bitapichhaya and Atasikaya.
Some contemporary names can give them close competition. “My grandfather gave me the name and it is a derivative of the English bowler Derek Pringle,” admits Pincle Nandi, 23, an MBA student. His name makes him the centre of attraction.
Gauresh Mehra, presumably a naming expert, sums it up on the Net: “A rare name is like a coat made out of the finest material. Envied by those who don’t have it. Worn with pride and confidence by those who do. A rare name surprises you, makes you exclaim that I have never heard this name before! What does it mean'”
ODD ONES IN
Renisa: A sound engineer gave his daughter the name by putting together three notes of the sargam — re, ni and sa
Rith: Means truth and sun in Sanskrit
Kalarab: Means cacophony
Athena: Named after the goddess of wisdom, war, arts, industry, justice and skill by her mother who went to Greece the year before her birth
Bhalobasha: A common sentiment but an uncommon name
Rakamouli: “Raka” means the full moon and “mouli” means the black circle around it
Kassiopia: Named after the constellation, which looks like a twisted W
Bihan: Means dawn. Named because he was born at dawn
Shaapla: Named after the white water flower, not the weed on the lunch table
Pincle: After the British bowler Derek Pringle