I was recently left pondering over this very question, when a coworker asked me to explain the significance of our choice for our little one. I am sure most Indians who have had any exposure to the West have had to clarify something related to their names – be it the way its pronounced, or explaining the significance of it!
Is it that the names are complex in English pronunciation because they were not designed for the language in the first place, a.k.a lost in translation?
Do all the Anglican names translate fairly easily over to other languages?
Having spent the last couple of years in a predominantly francophone community, I can see how Michael became Michel, Mark became Marc, or Stephen became Stephane when it passed the Anglo-Franco transformation and also suit the needs of the local language, as also to gel well with the syllables.
As the world becomes one small village, as the cliche goes, are we faced with having to come up with an equivalent Indian-Western name transformation?
To visit the other side of the story, I’m sure there’s a reason why we have the names we do. At the cost of generalizing, let me take the South Indian Hindu names for e.g: most have some sort of relationship to a Hindu God/Goddess.
The most logical conclusion I can make is that the grand parents and parents wished to chant these religious names as often as they could, resulting in the names being what they are! It served the dual purpose of being religiously inclined, while at the same time giving identity to the culture and religion.
So, while there’s the argument to translate into the Anglican form to give it more identity to the local land, there’s also the cultural identity. I guess it is the ultimate choice – local identity or cultural roots’ identity that governs the answer to “what’s in a name?”
To end on a lighter note, I have an anecdote from summer of ’02:
One of my unofficial roles, when being assigned to cover the initial foray of an Indian outsourcing services provider in the NorthEast US, was to help the newer arrivals from India settle down. I had one such engineer (who was to become a close friend later) land in Boston and during the first week, I took him to the Social Security office to get a SSN (Social Security Number, to those in the know!).
We apparently set a record then for his middle and last names (coming from a typical Tiruchirappalli tradition of having the village name be part of it) exceeded the space allocated for names in the SSN system.
To those curious minds, all’s well that ends well – he ended up giving a shortened name, which then became his name for the rest of his life in the US!
Image Credit: Jack Dorsey