By Sowmya Aji
An attendance register at a playschool anywhere in India would read like this: Aadya, Aadvika, Aakrutri, Aarnavi, Aarush, Aavani, Achintya, Adhish, Akshara, Anadya, Ananmay, Angana, Ariv, Annika, Arnit, Atharva. And if the teacher has finally exhausted the As, the other letters are no slouches in being unusual. Sample Mahath, Nishka, Yuktan, Riddanth, Jashan, Vivika, Pari, Vedant, Dharitri, Thryee, Nahilan.
For today's parents, everything is in the name. Till about three decades ago, when a child was born, he or she was named after parents, grandparents, a god, or what the astrologer advised. There were cultural, social, religious and economic affiliations to the name and most of the time, the gender of the child was evident in the name itself.
"You will be surprised by the variety of names parents come up with these days. If you ignore the surname, it's difficult to know that these children are Indians, leave alone their cultural affiliation," says Atreyi Banerjee, a teacher at South Point School, Kolkata.
Sociologist Chandan Gowda, 38, a professor at Azim Premji University, Bangalore, says such names reflect socio-cultural trends in the country and even have global connotations. "Names have evolved as an escape from community identities. Old names are no more fashionable,'' he contends. Parents now keep in mind whether the child's name can fit into a passport form or can be pronounced by foreigners. Gowda opted for a name out of Amarakosha, a thesaurus written in Sanskrit, for his son, Advaya, which means unique and is also another name for Buddha.
Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai named their daughter Aaradhya, Aamir Khan named his son Azad, Akshay Kumar's son is Aarav. Most people credit Shah Rukh Khan for starting the 'A' trend by naming his son Aryan. "It caught on,'' says Mumbai-based Kanishka Vasandani, 27, mother of a boy and girl named Shlok and Tiana respectively. A playschool teacher in Bangalore, Chinmai Sharma, 37, who named her child Srishti, feels the fixation with the letter A is just a fad. "Many people think the child's name should come first wherever the alphabetical order is used.''
Radhika Dosa, 38, named her daughter Alekhya, 12, a twist on Alekha, because it sounded right. "I went through the same phase all first-time moms go through-looking up baby names all over. I kept going back to the letter A and since Anoushka Shankar was a rage then, I wanted to name my daughter that. But the name became too common and we stuck with Alekhya."
Remembering the traditional way of giving a child a name, Bangalore-based R. Jayamahalakshmi, 68, says in the earlier days, as per the Hindu calendar Panchanga, the time and the day of the month in which the child was born dictated the first letter of the name. "So if a child was born under the makha nakshatra, he or she would be given a name beginning with Ma or Mi. A child born under kritika nakshatra would get a name starting with A or Aa,'' she explains. But Jayamahalakshmi is puzzled by the lack of meaning or context to today's names. "I have a friend whose grandchild is named Kesini. I asked her what it means? She tells me there is a Sagara maharaja in Mahabharata, whose wife's name was Kesini, so they named the child that. Does this make sense?'' she asks.
But if Michael Jackson got away with calling his son Blanket and Gwyneth Paltrow picked the name Apple for her daughter, why should Indians be far behind? Mumbai-based Anupama Sinha, 32, who named her two-year-old Aratrika, says, "All baby names have some sense. No one will choose a name with a negative meaning. So the deal is to have a different name, even if it is tough to pronounce."
For many, unusual name recall appears to work. Anybody who meets Hyderabad girl Sputnik Manne, 27, never forgets her. "I love my name since it's so unique. My father has always been fascinated with Russia. He was reading a magazine one day and came across something about Sputnik, the satellite, and he decided to name me that." Even her husband Praveen was "very excited about meeting me after he first read my name in my bio-data."
Names without borders is another trend that has caught on. Ada, which means charming in Urdu, and Hrsh, a variation of Harsh, meaning happiness in Sanskrit, are names of children born to Chennai-based Tamil-speaking parents Kritika Venkat and Rajesh. "When our son was born, the only name we both agreed on was Harsh. We sent an email to our friends abroad to introduce our son to them. Soon we got a call from a friend in the US asking us why we had named him Harsh," recalls Krithika, 34, a teacher at a playschool. So Harsh became Hrsh. Both their children like their unusual names. "Ada could spell her name before she was three because it's just three letters," says Kritika.
Chandigarh-based mother of two, Aashima Kaushal, 34, went a step ahead. When she was young, some neighbours called her Dumdum and she hated it. She heard the name Aashima (limitless) and told her teachers that it was her name. "I have grown up hearing names like Ajay, Suresh, Rakesh and Vikram. But when my first child was born, I knew I couldn't relate to such names. We named our son Devaditya. It has a royal ring to it. More than its meaning, I feel the comfort in pronouncing should be kept in mind," she says.
Seven-year-old Vivesha's name is named after her parents Vivek and Shweta, a trend that is in vogue. Kian's parents were flying back from Iran when they heard the name. Mother Minoti Makim, 40, says: "The name means crown of the king in Persian.''
Many couples, however, still prefer the traditional method. For Bangalore-based Sarah Fatima, 35, simplicity and meaning decided the choice of her son's name Zaid. "His name means someone who can reach heights. It is simple to pronounce and easy to spell,'' she says. And that's all that matters.
- With Devika Chaturvedi, Tithi Sarkar, Aditi Pai, Mona Ramawat and Lakshmi Kumaraswami
Reproduced From India Today. © 2012. LMIL. All rights reserved.
By Sowmya Aji
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