Friday, July 15, 2005

On names and smelly roses

So, theres this guy on my floor in office whose last name is Gay. I am sure his family took on that name in more innocent and, dare I say it, 'happier' times. It isn't a bad last name to have in the PC world of office and adult conversations. However, imagine having that last name in the cruel world of high school or college. I mean, the South Park crowd use that as a bad word, right next to "weak" and "f*#!ed up".

Having the last name I do did not, thankfully make me the butt of many jokes (pun intended). But, but, but after reading Haroun and The Sea Of Stories, with a pesky bus driver and a robotic hoopoe with the same name, my flat-mates found moi name ripe for harvesting. Being called "The Shah of Blah" on my birthday wasn't too bad - I was a tad too talkative, and they never could keep up. But being a butt of jokes was. I've heard other worse jokes ("Bhat Seriously?").

I am still grateful. If I was from Pakistan or Kashmir, there was a likelihood of my last name being spelled, guessed it, Butt. Imagine what Salman Butt must have been through at high school, especially if he went to one of the fancier "English Medium" schools.

The US does not keep much store by last names. In informal settings, you call people old enough to be your grandfather, and senior enough to be the vice-president by their first names. Imagine meeting the world's richest man on the Microsoft campus someday and saying "Hey Bill". Well, it is possible. It seems to be something that has invaded Indian corporate culture as well. Infoscions I know talk of 'Nandan' . As in Nilekani. CEO. Most of the rest of India, however, still goes by last name.

Nightmare Conversation in college: "Bhat, Why weren't you in class yesterday?" "Um, didnt my friend mark my attendance?" However, I was very low profile in college. I doubt if anyone knew my name. Which was horrendous when it came to getting recommendation letters for grad school. I did have my Andy Warhol minutes, which both helped and hindered.

The transition to first name in the US was hardly smooth. Ajay (as in "a jay jay-walked across the street") is now pronounced Aa-jay. Which is better than AJ. AJ isn't too bad (it's a moniker I used on SMS in India). Only that it's the name of a Backstreet Boys band member (yikes). And it sounds like someone's initials. And it makes my name sound non-Indian. My name is two syllables. How hard can it be?

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet?. Not.


Hirak said...

It this slavish tendency that I hate among immigrants or students in the US: modifying your name so that it is easier to pronounce.

Siddharth becomes Sid
Ajay becomes AJ
Vikram becomes Vik
Indian names have real lovely meanings and it's time that Americans learnt to pronounce them or at least make an effort to do so. In my experience, they don't insist on 'us' changing our names to suit them.

TheDQ said...

Sympathies on the surname experiences you've had.

Since im a 'Dave',my emails to americans get replied with a "Dear Mr. Dave". My efforts to let people know my name is pronounced TheWay, get returned with "The We?".
I've given up!

Ajay said...

Hirak - my personal experience has been 'Siddharth' became 'Sid' after Dil Chahta Hai - it was cool, wasn't it :-). But I agree.

I'm surprised especially by Asians(Chinese/Taiwanese mainly), who change to names like Bill or Matt which are completely unrelated to their original names.

Nupur, my sympathies :-).

Upasna said...

Infact in Kashmir too u wud b Bhat..Butt is jus Pak..

Also..there is an adv being in a place where ppl dont know the meanings of surnames..for instance a Kadu in MH is much worse than the same Kadu in US..
Infact even with me ie Kakroo..i m much better off out of Kashmir wud b quite a party for ppl hvin fun at my expense if they knew wht it meant!

me here from Sumedha's blog..hope u dont mind me sneaking..

Ajay said...


Kashmiri Pandits do have odd surnames - I've heard a few really weird ones that leave you wide open to being poked fun at.

And anyone reading this is welcome to. Thats the reason it's online.

Anonymous said...

Indian pigs who have surname bhatt must get out of fantasy that if they are in pakistan or kashmir (especially in muslim sense), they would be called butt. It is absolutely bull shit. Actually some bastard spelled it in pakistan as Butt rather than Batt. People with surname Butt in Pakistan are kashmiris and in many cases have diverse kashmiri origins, In pakistan even dars, lones, kashmiri sheikhs or khwajas also use this surnames. This is a trend in pakistan among kashmiri descendants to gather under one identity and that is Butt. Eventhough this may not be the case in the muslims of the kashmir valley but this is the case in the kashmiri muslim descendants of kashmiri immigrants in upper punjab whose ancestors fled kashmir after severe droughts in early 1800´s and then afterwards in the reign of bastard hindu dogra raja of kashmiri. I know this because I belong to kashmiri butt family from gujranwal in upper punjab pakistan.