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 as...you, 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.