An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Names we call and the ones that stick

We all have our names, which we are proud of, but then people get names that have no relationship to their real names. Somehow they may have done something, which coined their popular names.

As we were growing up, a neighborhood lady would go around the neighborhood selling sarees from her husband’s shop (which didn’t do particularly well). She did a decent job striking a personal relationship and therefore, the sales was reasonable to raise her sons who went onto become very successful professionals. She was a very good friend of my Mother. Now, I am not sure since when, but she was always called “Saree Wali Aunty” (Aunty with the Saree). As if other Aunties were roaming without one! But she had earned the name… literally!

There were many such people whom I played with – one was Chitta (White), the other was Kala (Black). While Chitta was quite fair as a kid, Kala was not dark at all. I often wondered what had earned him his name? It remained an enormous unsolved mystery in my childhood.

There was this old fat roadside vendor who would sell small trinklets and candy, where we would all congregate, whenever we had additional money to spare. He was “Pehalwan” (or the Strongman – mostly Wrestlers are called such). He was so slow and fat that I wasn’t sure if he had any luck wrestling anyone. But I was told that there was a time and age when he did wrestle in the local Akharas (gyms).

Kids in school are exceptionally bad to their friends and the kind of names we keep for our classmates usually hit at the most vulnerable areas in people’s personalities. One kid in our class used to have a tough time handling his gases after lunch and would leave a trail behind. He probably would have done that once or twice maybe. But he did at times when it was noticed by the most vocal and ruthless of our classmates. His name thus was coined as “Padda” – or Farty. It was cruel of course and not particularly motivating for a young kid. It became even worse when even the girls would call him by that name. It became synonymous with him.

Similarly, I was called “Junglee” because I was exceptionally angry kid. I once beat up a kid real bad on being called so, and that instead of helping me drop that epithet, reinforced it even more. For here was a kid who could beat up someone on being teased. It surely couldn’t be a civilized behavior. It took many years and soothing influence of some friends to drop my aggressiveness several notches to a point, where that epithet actually lost its meaning.

Why do we name people or give certain epithets to them mostly has a facetious beginning but in some cases these words stick beyond their reasonable life. Often when everybody uses them but doesn’t know why!

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