I have been forever 'pained' with my rather unusual name... for starters job offer letter and admit cards have been adressed to MS. Arkaprabha Sircar. My grandmother (thakuma) is to blame for it. Then comes the spelling and the pronunciation disparity - it is actually pronounced "Orkoprobho Shorcar" - we Bongs write "A" and pronounce it as "O" thereby confusing the rest of the civilised planet. Here is a very interesting piece that I found that explains the Bong name phenomena better...
My real name is a very common Bengali name. My name was so common at school, that I had 5 other guys with the same name in my section and three more including all other sections. To differentiate between us namesakes, our friends had to add various adjectives and/ or surnames as prefixes- Mota (Fat), Pagla (Mad), Boba (dumb) and surnames like Das and Chaku (abbreviated from Chakraborty). During our school exams we had to sit with senior classes- like Class six with class ten and so on. I clearly remember one instance when a senior sitting beside me had the same name and the surname of mine. I found that out while he was filling up the answer sheet form. I started to believe that I am like just another face in the crowd. What’s the point of having a name which is so common that one can readily remember atleast five known persons by that name? I sulked.
Obviously, I was never happy with such abundance of my namesakes everywhere. There were two major Bollywood movie stars with the same first name. Uniquely, one of them is Muslim by religion while the other is Punjabi. I was also bored with the most common way my name was spelt. So while filling up the form of Secondary Exam, I took a long deep breath and changed the spelling. Though the change was mere replacing an ‘a’ with ‘o’, but that momentary enjayment became a bong flavored enjoyment for life.
While studying in Delhi for my master’s degree, I found that my name is actually an ubiquitous National name. People from all state, origin and culture sport the name. However, I think my name is just an odd exception of Bengali names, which this post is about.
Bengali names and its characteristics always intrigued me. Bengali’s are immediately identified by their names, in case one can’t identify from his/ her looks or accent (which is a very rare case). But Bengali names and its socio-cultural significance needs some detailed categorized explanation.
A Bong has two names
Bhalo naam (Good name or formal name) and Dak naam (nick name). Those who has read / or seen Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake, must be familiar with the concept. Whenever a Bengali baby is born (except for countries like US where naming a baby is mandatory even before it’s birth), s/he is not immediately named with a Bhalo Naam. Till such time the Bhalo Naam is deliberated by the generous contributions from innumerable uncles-aunties, grand parents, neighbours, office colleagues, neighbour’s colleagues, friends, maids, friend’s neighbour, colleague’s friend and finally the family Gurudev the great ‘Baba’or ‘Swamiji’. Till such time a suitable Bhalo naam is being collated, analyzed and synthesized the bong baby is called by his nick names.
Fundamentally, every bong boy is ‘babu’ or ‘khoka’ and girl is ‘khuki’ or ‘budi’ for the parents, so that’s the basic nick name any bong species would start with. It is to be understood that the nick names are more character oriented and deeply dipped in love; affection and creativity so mostly do not have any bearing with the real name whatsoever. It is also important to understand that the number of nicknames one bong baby has, is directly proportional to the number of reatives and neighbours its family keep good terms with. So one bong boy can be ‘babu’ to his mom, ‘babai’ to his dad, ‘dadusona’ to his granddad but called ‘lala’ by his friends, ‘gola’ by his cousins and ‘Jaggu’ by the bollywood buff neighbour.
Without nicknames Gauranga Chakraborty and Alokesh Lahiri could never have become Mithun(da) and Bappi (da). Does Abhas Kumar Ganguly , Prabodh Chandra Dey or Nilanjana Lahiri ring any bell unless I tell you those are bhalo naam of Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey and Jhumpa Lahiri?
When I was a kid the most common form of daknaams used to be potla, hulo, nadu, habul, ghoton, bablu, gogol, bumba etc for boys and tepi, puchki, tuni, buni, tumpa, rinku for girls. Now a days they mostly sound like foriegn names- sonia, ginia, mark, gama, hojo, mimi, mona, pinto, rocky etc. On this context , many non-bengali bollywood artistes are more popularly known by their ‘bengali sounding’ daaknaams. ‘Tabu’ is a very common male daknaam in any para in Kolkata, whereas any guy with a name ‘Ram’ is affectionately called as ‘Remo’ by his friends. Sukumar Ray’s famous character ‘Pagla Dashu’ has many such mentions. By that logic it seems Ram Fernerdez may have a strong bong influence behind his name and fame.
Amusing it might sound but the fact remains that even the most aristocratic, rich and influential Bong gentlemen and ladies would have an equally embarrassing daknaam at home and would be called by by that by the elders and friends.
Though many bongs may not like it, but it’s the daknaam which has always been more popular with famous bengalis – examples Goshtho Pal ( Goshtho Bihar i Pal), Chuni Goswamy (Subimal Goswami), Fata Keshto, Tutu Bose, Panchamda ( Rahul Deb Burman), Dada ( Sourav Ganguli), Pritam ( Pritam Chakraborty), George Biswas ( Debabrata Biswas) and most favoirite Manikda ( Satyajit Ray).
Even in fiction Jatayu is more popular than Lalmohan Ganguli (the droll writer character in Satyajit ray’s Feluda novels). Just try thinking what would have happened to these powerful characters without their nicknames Feluda ( Pradosh Miter), Ghanada ( Ghanashyam Das), Tenida (Bhojohori Kukherjee), Kyabla (Kushal Mitra), Pyala ( Kamlesh Banerji) and Habul ( Habul Sen) ? Of course we have our Didi (Mamata Bannerjee) as powerful and amplified as any fictional characters.
That’s why the trend has changed now daaknaam is the new bhalo naam now- e.g Tapur & Tupur Chatterjee, the famous twin bong models. Btw Tapur-tupur denote the sound of trickling raindrops.
These are the commonest names. Indranil, Subhashish, Debashish, Anirban and Dipankar would be found in every class, every office and every goddam place on earth. When I was in school every fifth bong kid was named either Indranil or Debashish. Almost every Debashish has a brother named Subhashish and vice versa. Similarly Dipankar’s will have Subhankar; Debojyoti will have Shobhojyoti; Alok would have a Ashok as a rule. Similarly for bonginis Sudeshna, Gargi, Mausumi, Ananya, Lopamudra and Moonmoon are found in abundance. I have observed certain names have typical recognizable characteristics- like I am yet to meet a Sudeshna who’s unattractive or a Moonmoon who is skinny. But let’s keep that discussion reserved for another post.
Names used in Idioms
I can readily recall three Bengali idioms which are biased towards certain names.
1. Mere baaper naam Khagen kore debo! [ Will beat you so hard that your dad would be renamed as Khagen]. I don not know the story behind this idiom hence fail to understand the significance of the name Khagen. However the only relief is that son’s of real Khagens don’t have to worry too much.
2. Joto dosh Nondo Ghosh [ Nondo Ghosh is the universal scapegoat]. Unexplainable but I guess Nondo Ghosh here represents the faceless, powerless aam aadmi who is to be blamed whenever something goes wrong.
3. Lage taka debe Gouri Sen [When money is needed Gouri Sen would provide]. Gouri Sen here is a rich male businessman from 18th century Bengal.
4. Baler (Bal-slang for pubic hair used as figure of speech to denote inferiority) kotha Basuram ke giye bolo [Talk such bullshit to Basuram and not to us]. in college, we used this phrase mercilessly and randomly to anyone who tried to bullshit us . I never figured why Basuram would be interested to take bullshit anyway.
Traditionally bong’s used to take great pride in naming their offsprings with obscure, complicated, long and difficult names. Pundorikakkho, Pradyumno, Khsiteesh, Adriveet, Ayaskanto, Rudraneel, Archisman, Indrayani, Haimabati, Anuranjini, Tilottama- names which sound like characters of epic tales. Difficult to spell and impossible to pronounce for everyone else. Once in our University campus, I saw a guy, probably in the first year calling out to his newly met female classmate. ‘Dhritidipa….ei Dhritidipa….Dhritidipa….’ he was struggling his best with eyes popping out, face radiating a blood red glow and hands trembling like snapped tail of a lizard. I shuddered to imagine what would happen to him when their intimacy grows further.
The culture is gradually fading and minimalistic contemporary names with lesser syllables are in vogue now. Bongs have realized now that their world is larger than Kolkata and to make a ‘name’, it has to be modern and user friendly. However those modern names invites trouble of a different nature. My cousin named their son ‘Sampan’ meaning a Chinese skiff , which was meant to be artistic and romantic. Unfortunately in Haryana, where they stay, people conveniently changed it to ‘Sampanna’ meaning affluent. Similarly one of my friend named Arijit was transformed to ‘Harijeet’ by his collegues at Nehru Place.
Another guy, who’s parent must have thought he would be fast and furious and lovably named him as ‘Tibro’ . Eventually after lot of experimentation like Tibr, Tibre, Tivra he settled for ‘Teev’ for everyone’s convenience.
Globalized Bong Names
Thanks to the globalization, names which are complicated to pronounce and at times no less a tongue twister are compelled to be globalized. A globalized bong name can be pronounced and written with minimal effort. When successful educated Bongs land up at the lands of Sahebs (a bong term equivalent to ‘gora’ applied to a white skinned person anywhere outside India) they promptly globalize their names.
SatyaSundar Bose ( Sata Bose- the famous character of Chowringhee played by Uttam Kumar) is probably the trendsetter. Sabyasachi Sen (Saby Sen), Rananjay Sarkar (Ronny Sarkar) Dipankar Bhattachharyya ( Dip B Acharya), Shiladitya Ghosh ( Adi G), Ashoke Bandopadhyay ( Isac Bannerjee), Padmalochan Karmakar (Paddy Kar), Bodhisatya Purokayostho ( Bodhi Pkay), Sushmita Sen (Sush), Ipsita (Ips), Vatsayan (Vats), Lopamudra ( Lops) etc.
Bong names are extremely gender sensitive. Male and female names are strictly different irrespective of their meaning and generally differentiated while spelling and pronouncing it correctly. For the uninitiated Sudipto (M) and Sudipta (F) makes huge difference, same for Aparajito (M) and Aparajita (F). Some names might be treated as feminine in other parts of the country, but bong’s follow strict traditional naming customs. Thus ‘Suman’ ( meaning Flower and thus named to girls in North India) is a masculine name for Bongs and Sumana is the feminine counterpart ! A bengali girl will never be called ‘Kamal’ but ‘Kamala’ with an aa at the end. I don’t blame Indians from other states who fails to capture the subtle difference in pronounciation of Rajarshi (M) and Rajyashri(F) and equate it with Rajshree (F). It’s unfair but unavoidable.
Before ending, just thought of clarifying of some common errors in understanding few names. Arani is a masculine name and Rani is a feminine one. But that doesn’t mean Arani is opposite of Rani. Opposite to Rani would be Raja. Same concept is applicable to Bani and Abani, Shani and Ashani, Beer and Abeer etc etc.
So next time someone says – whats in a name ? A lot actually, if it’s Bong.
But talking of Bongs and unusual names, my father was named "Gandhi Sircar" by my grandfather (dadu) in a frenzy of nationalism post our independence to honour the father of our nation. So my Baba is a "man with no name" (much like his silver screen idol Clint Eastwood in his westerns) and has 2 "surnames"!! This has led to rather amusing situations including often 2 hotel rooms being booked for him - one for Mr. Gandhi and the other for Mr. Sircar.
PS - My Dadu totally went overboard on nationalism... his offsprings are thus named: Jawhar, Gandhi, Subhas and Sarojini!