Tag Archives: naming

The Venus Flytrap: Dropping Names

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Recently, a friend dropped me a note under a different name from the one I’d known him by for eleven years. I raised one culture-mulcher highbrow eyebrow at his new moniker and immediately called him out on it. As expected, the change had been a result of his moving to Australia, where – he said – his new buddies had rechristened him. I snorted privately and exhorted publicly: “Be proud of your polysyllabic name! Besides, Bobby doesn’t rhyme with Banana (while your real name does)”. Rhyme is important to me – in case I ever have to write a sonnet for an epitaph, I don’t want my options to be limited to hobby, lobby and (ahem) snobby. Banana, cabana and Hannah Montana lend themselves much better to eulogizing.

He had changed his name on all his social networking profiles, chat and email programmes. I found this annoying and somewhat regressive, but he insisted that letting one’s friends call you by nicknames is sweet. “Sure,” I acceded. “But you don’t see me changing my name to Ammamma Kitty”.

At this juncture I will confess to the following: I have a different legal name for reasons you can exaggerate in your imagination, once published an article under a pseudonym inspired by an alter-ego inspired by a plush toy, and yes, one of my friends calls me Ammamma. Many others do call me variations of Kitty (though not, you monkeys, the obvious synonym). Still, to my mind, none of these things are rooted in embarrassment, which is how I saw the friend-henceforth-known-as-Bobby’s choice. There is a long history of Asian people assimilating by taking on Western names – how many Tripurasundaris have become Tinas, and how many Mei Lings, Marilyns? Rueful, I considered how Bobby rhymed with Robby, a diminutive – in every sense – of Rabindranath.

No, the whole thing made me want to commit many cliché reactionary acts, like politicizing my sloth as a bed-in, wearing homespun khadi, piercing my other nostril and rereading Spivak (she of the ex-husband’s name). I was too lazy for all of this, though, and had evening plans that interfered with the bed-in, so I settled for clicking the “like” button on someone else’s snarky post to “Bobby P.” asking when he was going to cut a record and start a fragrance line. The view from my high horse was pretty great.

Of course, I was duly chastised. Later that day, I went out with an expat friend. We were the last to arrive, and a group of people I hadn’t met before were already there. “Hey everybody,” said my friend cheerily, and extended a hand in my direction. “This is Ranya”.

Then she turned to me and said, just as cheerily, “I’m so glad you texted earlier, because I spent ages online trying to remember how to pronounce your full name, but on my phone I have the ‘version for dummies’ saved!”. This was true. Ranya was the nickname I hadn’t needed to bring back to India, cases of extreme closeness or extreme mangling notwithstanding. Someone had given it to me back in school, when P. Diddy was still Puff (and still cool), Bobby still had a name that rhymed with Banana, and I – well, I was Ranya.

I did, however, at least already have one nostril pierced by then.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

The Venus Flytrap: Grace In Aliases

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I have a friend who has a name so supremely cool that I’m concerned it cannot even be mentioned in this column without incurring royalties. It is Chandrachoodan, which despite meaning something as poetically wimpy as “the one with the moon matted into his hair” sounds like “the one who will have you eviscerated if you take his parking space”. I unfortunately, am a Sharanya. The prettiest name in South India – as all of about 20 million sets of parents seem to have realized, including mine.

However, as only people with access to my legal documents and hardcore stalkers may know, it’s not my real name, in a technical sense. My real first name, my spiffy business-like alter-ego who collects cheques, signs debit card bills and occasionally gets interrogated at immigration, is one that really does live up to my (entirely fictional, my also-fictional lawyer insists I add) reputation of eating men for breakfast. But what follows that secret sobriquet takes the cake: an alias sign. Also known as the @ in an email address. I bamboozle you not. I have a glyph in my legal name.

There are even more interesting reasons to be grateful for my monikers. I got to thinking about this topic because of the excitement over what the new Brangelina twins have been christened: the perfectly sensible names of Knox and Vivienne. Is normal the only remaining fetish in celebrity baby-naming? Not being called Apple or Audio Science might be the last taboo, a curse guaranteed to make you really unpopular in Hollywood playgrounds, and your parents total revolutionaries.

This, therefore, would make my parents incredibly ahead of their time and cool. Which doesn’t exactly compute with data already at available to me, but still.

The great disadvantage of a common name that can be pronounced two ways, however, is that mine inevitably gets pronounced in the way that I don’t like. Without the H. Ironically, one of the names I hate most contains only letter less than my own.

But there’s one specific advantage to so unexceptional an epithet: there’s already a planet that shares it, and I’m not even very famous yet! Minor asteroid 17092 Sharanya was named for an upcoming scientist from Coimbatore. Do you know who else has one of those named for them? Andy Warhol. That makes at least two things that put me in his league: incurable kitschiness and planet co-baptism.

If that doesn’t make me cosmically cool, I don’t know what will.

I could accessorize the planet with a star bought off the Internet, but that’s not extraordinary anymore. And a perfume or clothing range is just too boringly bourgeois, so the unimaginative can keep those options. I’d rather have the quirky stuff.

So among my dreams are to have two seemingly paradoxical things named after me: a cocktail and a hurricane. The second will be an act of god and the first will be simply divine.

In some folklore, such as in the story of Manawee and his twin brides (as retold by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run With The Wolves), knowing the name of something indicates power over it. The truth is this: I considered reverting to my legal name even as recently as last year. And then things beyond my control pushed this name, the name you know me by, into a public sphere. There was little I could do but take possession.

Now I know both my names. And I am powerful in both. To the world at large, I have a common, frequently-mispronounced, everyone-has-a-relative-who’s-a… name. But I plan on owning it like none of the others ever have.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.