Tuesday, April 10, 2007

what's in a name?

In general, South Indians have a very confusing naming structure. Their names are largely comprised of three or four names, only one of which really describes that particular person. If I were to follow their example, I would have been named Randolph Robert Jill. The first part of the name is usually the caste or village name, followed by the father's first name, and then the individual's first name. And to make things a little crazier, when women get married they take
their husband's first name as their last name.

I was quite ignorant about these matters when we got married nearly fourscore and seven years ago. Had I known then what I know now (head shaking ruefully)... I probably would have kept my original name. It was quite a nice Wasp name that I was born to... with swamp Yankee roots, a couple of esteemed ancestors and a nearby college all sharing the name. I even used to get compliments on my name, "good name" anonymous people on the other end of the phone line would say when I told them my name. Of course, they were probably descendants of swamp Yankees themselves with similar names, entrenched in the history of our region.

My ruefulness is compounded when total strangers (south Indians all) assume wrongly that I am married to my father-in-law instead of my husband, because his first name is now my last name.

How did this happen?


Anonymous said...

Amen Sister,

I am married to an American woman. Like many south indians, I do not have last names. We have something called initials, it is simply the firt alphabet of my father's first name. Because everywhere in USA they ask for last name, we use our initials as last name.

The down side is, my wife insists on having my last name, which is my dad's name. Everytime she calles herself a Mrs.XYZ my skin crawls. I feel like she took my mom's place in the family. Its just yuck!


Anil P said...

The name of the village, the surname and the like 'fix' a person vis a vis his/her origins.

Anonymous said...

Ohhhh wow! i am an really clueless malayali....lol
so that explains why everyone's last names amongst his brothers dont match up. susan