for Reuters on Dec. 10, 2007
Photo Credits: Diego M. Wyllie
NEW DELHI - Hate your name? In India, chances are your parents, neighbours, well-meaning relatives, religious tradition, and even the Internet, are all to blame.
Indians love naming babies, be it their own or someone else's, with the hunt starting soon after a child is conceived.
The objective, parents say, is a "refined" name that would reflect both the physical and mental abilities of the newborn and, most importantly in today's globalised world, can be pronounced by people of all cultures.
"Mrignayani (doe-eyed) if it's a girl and Hriday (heart) if it's a boy," said grandmother Priyamvada after an hour of searching through a yellowed volume of "Bengali Baby Names Over the Years", which is a family heirloom.
Sanskrit scholar Ramaranjan Mukherjee feels it is "the ingrained spirituality of Indians that makes them research before naming their offspring".
"From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, Indians differ in every aspect but perceive spirituality as same and this Indianness goes behind the naming process," Mukherjee said.
Devout grandparents often take the traditional route and automatically name children after gods and goddesses, creating households full of Narayans, Parvatis or Laxmis.
"Most expectant mothers in south India desire Lord Krishna in their wombs. Not surprising then most southern names are synonyms for Krishna," said journalist K. Sudhi, whose son is called Navneet, or "butter", symbolising the raids a playful young Krishna made on his mother's kitchen.
It does help that Lord Krishna is known by 108 names.
Once considered passe, the names of mythological characters and royalty that feature in Indian folklore are making a comeback, Mukherjee said. "Parthsarathy (charioteer) and Yayati (a sage) are popular," he said.
More parents today, however, are turning to Web sites such as http://www.indianparenting.com and http://www.iloveindia.com and books such as the "Penguin Book of Hindu Names", which, according to bookstore owners, is a bestseller.
Many of these sites claim to offer "unusual" but traditional names that can be clipped down to accommodate Western tongues. "Jowar" (high tide) can be "Jo" and "Mandakranta" (a Sanskrit rhyming metre) becomes "Mandy".
And when ideologies or poetic fervour get in the way, babies end up being named 'Stalin' or 'Pablo'.
"I have always admired Pablo Neruda's works. I decided to honour the writer by dedicating my son to him," said Papiya Sarkar, a fan of the Chilean author.
This name obsession has not left India's rich and famous untouched either.
The state leader of an Indian political party named Yediyurappa changed the spelling of his name to Yeddyurappa on astrological advice, believing it would bring him good fortune.
It did. He became chief minister of the southern state of Karnataka, if only for a week.
Director Ekta Kapoor's television series and Karan Johar's films mostly begin with the alphabet 'K', sometimes a couple of Ks for good measure, on advice from numerologists.
However, despite the meticulous planning that goes into naming, there are some who feel they have been short-changed.
Arpita Chatterjee says she spent her childhood telling people who confused her name with her brother's, Arpit, that she really was a girl.
And Seema Kaul, whose first name means borders, isn't chuffed by her parent's decision either.
"They had a choice between Seema and Kavita (poetry), and I am stuck with a name that does not have any profound meaning. I would have definitely run with Kavita," she said.