regular-article-logo Friday, 09 June 2023

Drop that name: Editorial on the trend of naming babies

While the crystallising of the family’s hopes and dreams for the baby in a name is common to all societies, other conventions differ

The Editorial Board Published 25.03.23, 04:33 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. File Photo

Do baby names follow fashion like changing hemlines? It would be unusual to meet a young woman by the name of, say, Kshemankari at a party or her partner called Jyotirindranath. Not impossible, but rare. In the United States of America, for instance, 2023 will be losing Arjuns and Miras, Mildreds and Hugos, as well as numerous others, according to the latest analysis of Social Security Administration lists. This means that the rapid-fire answer to the overwrought question, ‘What’s in a name?’ would be ‘Age’. Millennials do not drool over Baby Boomer names for their children.

Names going ‘in’ and ‘out’ may pose a slightly more complicated phenomenon than hemlines. Naming the baby is a celebratory, social and sometimes religious event for families in every culture. At this event of all-round blessings for the newborn, no one wants to miss out a fairy or two as did the unfortunate parents of Sleeping Beauty. While the crystallising of the family’s hopes and dreams for the baby in a name is common to all societies, other conventions differ. Names may contain elements of ethnicity, religion, social status, caste in India and other markers of identity. Some cultures include a forefather’s or foremother’s name in the mix, both as convention and a way of honouring close or loved relatives; others may have the father’s birthplace as part of the name. Within India, practices differ not just between religions or languages, but between regions as well. A name unfashionable in one state may be popular in another, perhaps with a different pronunciation. Then there are names from mythology and the epics, often connected with popular beliefs. Few boys are called Ravana, for example. With India’s diversity and its abundance of possibilities, trying to identify the names dropping out of sight might be a task worthy of Sisyphus.

But a change has taken place here as elsewhere through the altered attitudes of aspiring parents that partly have to do with global mobility — names should be pronounceable everywhere — and partly with a desire for uniqueness. Instead of ‘fitting in’ — with tradition, family, cultural and religious milieus, there is a wish to have the child ‘stand out’, to assert their identity in a crowded, competitive world. Old names will no longer do. Indian texts offer a rich collection of unusual names even for deities — just one favourite god may have 108 names — as well as beautiful words for various qualities. Parents need not stick to Mercy or Charity. Besides, there is also the urge to imprint the child’s name with the parents’ beliefs, perhaps in feminism or secularism. The hetero-normative family is beginning to come undone in many places as well; same-sex or trans parents may look for new pages in the naming dictionary. But in this surge of newness, poor Kate or Walter may suddenly find their names back in fashion. Hemlines, after all, come and go.

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