The other day I took my juicer to the electrical shop for repair and the shopkeeper gave me his card on which he scribbled a receipt. I shoved it in my handbag, without glancing at it. A couple of days later when I had to pick up the said item, I pulled out the card to call him up to find if the juicer was ready. Imagine my amusement when I saw the name: Honey. Wait, there was another name underneath. It read, Rosie.
These are not nicknames mind you, but the actual names of the gents. Or perhaps they had decided to make the nicknames their official names. Whatever it was, the visiting cards sported the names for all the world to call them.
Now, who would imagine that two burly sardars would have such feminine names as Honey and Rosie. And what was worse, I couldn’t imagine calling up and asking for ‘Honey’ or Rosie, since he had instructed me to ask by the specific names lest the others were not able to help me!
Call me a prude, but I finally decided to go to the shop in person and find out if the appliance was ready.
Guddu and Pinku are two nicknames given to boys in the heartland of our country. Never mind that Guddu is a swarthy fellow with a six-foot frame and Pinku is a dark complexioned macho guy. So used to the names the owners are that when asked for their names, they will proudly tell you their nicknames, never mind that you might feel embarrassed to address them as such!
We have any number of Bunty, Rocky, Pinky, Tinku and even a Gifty among other nicknames. Many of these names have conveniently become their actual names too.
And then there was this call one day, ‘Hi, how are you? This is Baby here!’
The voice sounded familiar, but I was not sure. ‘Baby?’ I asked.
‘Have you forgotten me?’ It was my cousin whom I have not met for the past several decades as both of us kept moving and lost touch. Even when I had last met her she had not been a ‘baby.’ Now a grandmother, she still remains Baby and is called ‘Baby Pati’ (grandma Baby)!
There are thousands of Pappa (baby), Kutti (small one), Chinna paiyya (small boy) and Kuzhandai (child) and more, who have grown into adulthood and even old age with the same nicknames. My aunt who goes by the name Kutti, has become a great grandmother now, that is, from Kutti Pati, she has become Kutti kollu pati!
Remember the Cadbury Dairy Milk ad of Pappu paas ho gaya? Well I know of a couple of Pappus who are older than the one in the ad. One of them was pissed off that his siblings and sundry others continued calling him Pappu even though he has an adult son. ‘When I become a grandfather and take my grandchild for a walk, if someone calls out ‘Pappu’, no one would know if it is me or my grandson they are calling!’ he burst out one day.
In rural Tamil Nadu, one can hear names like Poochi, (insect) Vandi,(vehicle) Pannadai (one who wears different kinds of clothes) erumai (buffalo), vettukkili (grasshopper), nandu (crab), chutti (shrewd) and Mottai (bald). How these names came about needs research and several posts.
We have all heard of Stalin (the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.Karunanidhi’s son), but how many of you have heard of Hitler and Saddam? Well these are the names lovingly given by parents in the said state. Wonder if they gave the names with the knowledge of their original namesake, or just because they liked the sound of the names?
Some Tamil names have special significance since they are given for a purpose – these are usually babies who are born after several abortions/stillbirths. The parents would usually make pledges to the gods to do certain penances like begging to make a pilgrimage with the baby (pichai, pichaiamma – pichai means begging); laying the baby on a pile of garbage and calling her kupachi (kuppai means garbage); piercing the nose of the boy and calling him Mookandi (mooku means nose) and so on. These become actual names instead of just nicknames.
Names that describe the appearance can also become a millstone round the bearer’s neck if they grow out of that. As Chotu (small one) could well become a motu (fat one) or a Bhoorie (one with wheatish complexion) might become a Gorie or Kali (fair and dark complexioned respectively).
Once during a trip to Guwahati we had an auto driver called Tultul. He told us that it meant ‘chubby’. Unlike the many Guddus and Rosies, who were nothing like their names, he still had chubby cheeks and probably deserved to be called by that name. Apparently Bengali nicknames are very funny and descriptive. Would love to hear them!
Maharashtrian surnames are very descriptive and merit an entire post, even several. In fact, there are a lot of articles written on them. However, I will mention a few here: Mr.Potdukhe (whose stomach aches) — was the name of an erstwhile minister at the Centre — Waghmare (tiger slayer), Gaitonde (cow-faced) Sahasrabudhdhe (one with one thousand brains). I recently had a neighbour whose last name was Jeebhkate (one who cut his tongue). I had to ask twice to make sure, because though I know many surnames that are graphic, I had never heard this one!
We had nicknames for our boys too which were ‘cute’ but would surely have embarrassed the hell out of them had we continued calling them with those names in public. So we stopped by the time they entered school and just stuck to their shortened forms of their names. But when we are at home, we still call them by their nicknames and they have their names for us both too.
Nicknames can be a bane, but sometimes names could be too, making the bearer feel embarrassed or become objects of curiosity and maybe a snicker or two. I should know!