Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The "Burden" of a name

Every ethnic group has its share of funny sounding names, but for someone alien to a language, the humor may be lost. Hence some English names have universal laugh value, as cricketer Ryan Sidebottom will know. However, Brits are clearly not amused. A recent study that compared names to an 1881 census discovered that the number of people with funny names has declined drastically. Surnames “Ball” and “Daft” were down by 50% while “Cock” was down by 75%. The sharp decline in the latter name can be attributed to the fact that it is often used as a suffix to another word (Hiscock, Badcock), giving it interesting interpretations.

The complex Indian society has been a fertile territory for equally funny names. Maharashtrians are right up there with the Brits with their contributions. Some that instantly come to mind are:
Potdukhe - Stomach hurts. Not because of laughter. That’s the English translation of the name
Kankate – Ear Cut
Lele – Take it
Fulpagar – Full wages
Sahasrabuddhe – Gazillion brains
Chodnekar – (Sorry, this is censored)

Before I am accused of being partisan, let me move on to Keralites, who provide soothing names such as Fancy, Baby, Shiny, Blossom and Patience. Any Keralite living in North India is aware of the perils of carrying a surname such as Kutty. Or the pressure of being named Einstein as a kid and trying to live up to the expectations. Some revel in doubling the alphabets used in their name and lengthening it, such as Ooppoottill.

Vedas, the ancient Indian scriptures have given rise to some competitive last names. Chaturvedis (master of all 4 vedas) sit on the top, followed by Trivedis (3 vedas). There is therefore little incentive to read all four Vedas when you are stuck with a surname like Dwivedi (only 2 vedas). By and large, however the Hindi heartland has stuck to non funny names. If you need humor, you need to move further up north to Punjab, which has its Bains (Buffalo) and Saand (Bull). As you can understand, this is farm country and people take pride in their animals. The robust military tradition can be seen in names such as Karnail Singh (Colonel) and the not to be outdone Jarnail Singh (General). A journey further up north to Kashmir reveals Tikkoos, Bambroos and Khachroos, which though cannot be translated to anything, have phonetic value.

Rural India has in the past produced some gems as far as fun names go. And unlike the other names described here which accidently have a funny translation, these were meant to be light hearted. The tabla player in my school orchestra was a rustic chap named Anokhe Lal (wonder kid). Rural poverty also gives birth to names which might bring luck to the bearer. Ginni Devi (named after Guineas, an old English currency and hence symbolizing wealth) Rabri Devi and Jalebi Devi (both named after sweets and symbolizing the ability to afford them), and Kismat Ram (literally meaning Luck) are some such examples. The less ambitious, or those resigned to their fate have names such as Maange Ram (implying the condition of begging) and Faqir Chand (devoid of any monetary wealth).

Taking surnames based on one’s profession is a universal habit but can be awkward for future generations as ex-classmate and construction engineer Hemant Doctor will tell you. Hemant once told me he had a tough time convincing co-passengers on a flight when in need of medical expertise that his only relationship with medicine was consuming anti-hangover pills. Similarly, no matter how many aircrafts Captain Driver flies, he will still be identified with the less glamorous profession. Sadly in India, as in Britain, funny names are on the decline as people refuse to carry the ancestral burden. With increase in wealth, social mobility and Bollywood influence, names are becoming artistic and boring, without much character to them.

I request my Pakistani followers to contribute some funnies of their own. As for my Scandinavian follower Jacob Larsen, he can write to me privately to know the meaning of the Swedish surname Lund in Hindi.

(personally i don't like the term 'Follower' here. Makes me sound like some kind of fraudulent guru.)


  1. Guru ji, we don't have many such names here, at least none are coming to my mind, but how can you forget Butt, as in Salman Butt? Needless to say he proved the saying wrong ke, "naam mein kya rakha hai". In his case.... everything :)

  2. Man I'm curious now. Asked Nayab n she SMSed back the meaning as 'male brain center'. Know it's not right but by what u have said and what she has said I think I've got it :D Ain't I?

  3. @Jacob
    Yes, you got it. Some women believe the mail brain is not located in the head.

  4. What a sexy nation we are in that case:D Over six feet long Lunds roaming around hahahahaha. Great gal, spoke my language to give me the meaning without saying it. My marriage broke due to this very reason. Yes man, my brain center is very much there hahahah