Thursday, July 07, 2005

All in a name

I have a large number of very good Malayali friends, even though I've never lived in Kerala (nor have I really lived in a Persian Gulf country), and it must be said that some of them have the most imaginative (or bizarre) firstnames that baffle and amuse the rest of us Indians.

Of course, there are plenty of commonplace Ajays and Vinays and Krishnans, and plenty of motley Johns and Georges, but every now and then a Kurian or a Chandy or a Varghese (a Syrian-Christian name, which actually is George) peeps out, unique to Malluland. But these are the unfortunate Mallus christened without unique names. The rest of them have names unheard of anywhere else!

Take my friend Bobbilikumar for instance. Yes, Bobbilikumar! He used to come for cricket coaching/practice to the same place as me, and aspired to be a fast bowler. In practice matches, the batsman would ask the wicketkeeper what the bowler's name was, would hear the reply, watch poor Bobbili charge in, and get out purely due to weakness from laughing. I sometimes wonder why Kuruvilla didn't have the same effect in the Indian team. Or did he? And then, there were these two kids in my school, who always came with shoddy uniforms, only to be hauled up by me (during my prefect days). They were called Biju and Jiju, with Biju being a year older. Now, I'm willing to stretch my imagination and concede that Biju might be a name, but what on earth does Jiju mean? I mean, even names like Pinky mean something!

One of the reigning superstars of Malayalam cinema is called Mammooty. Does anyone wonder why, for all his superb acting skills, he never made it big in any other regional cinema? Even in Tamil cinema, he could never be the lead actor, because directors couldn't bear to see a name like that publicized.

While on a summer research project, I roomed with this delightful Mallu called Pradeep, and so got to meet his friends. One of them was this swarthy, bearded, macho individual who believed in chain smoking and hard drinking. He was called Saji. Now, honestly tell me, how do you inspire masculine awe with a name like that? Here I also met another gentleman called Modman. With a name like that, you know it's inevitably going to be reduced by everyone to Madman, don't you? And then there's this story I was telling my wife, about some trip my classmates and I had made in college. Somewhere in that story, the name of one of my classmates, Sheijoo, popped up. "Sheiju", said my wife. "I have a friend called Sheiju also. He used to work with me." Great! Only, my friend Sheijoo was a girl! Causes some confusion, what?

I'm not even going to get into the names of some Malayali literary giants (I've had the pleasure of reading a tiny number of some of their books in translation) like Kunnikuttan Tampuran, or Appan Tampuran, or the unpronounceable Tunchattu Ramanuja Ezhuttachchan! You can almost be sure to be entertained by names while in Kerala, but I guess you've got to name your kids something, and these names work!

I hope though that if my friends chance upon this blog they take this in good humor, and continue to supply me with delicious appams and ada pradhaman when I visit them.

51 comments:

Vishnu said...

nor have I really lived in a Persian Gulf country
That's so funny!! Lol!

Here are more: Jikku, Pingu, Tinku, Smibu,...these are all people I know! But Bobbilikumar and Modman are the best of the lot!

You might know that Mammooty's actual name is Mohammad Kutty, which of course does not give him a "hero" image! Appan Tampuran is a common name in the Kochi royal family. Ramanujan is the name. Ezuttachan is a caste name in Kerala.

ashvin said...

Right on, Sunil. I've got cousins named "Jijo" and "Joji".

There's a whole list of names here.

But the funniest malayali name I've heard was from a comment at Sepia Mutiny. I won't repeat it, just read the comment (#16):

http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/001694.html#comment12859


Poor brother of Denis Jacob !

Sunil said...

hehe....yes Vishnu, some great names there.

Yeah....I know Mammootty's name is Mohammad Kutty....but to have a screen name of Mammootty!

Yeah...Ramanujan is a very common name (especially in Tamil Nadu), and is a Sanskrit name, and I know Ezuttacan is a caste, but completely unpronounceable for most Indians (Tamilians sometimes manage :-)).

I like Tinku....if it really is a person's name, and not "petname", wow!

Sunil said...

Asvin...I just read comment 16, and am still ROTFL.

Vishnu said...

Nope, Tinku is a friend's official firstname.

Anand said...

Baby is another common name. Moreover Baby could be Hindu, Muslim, or Christian, male or female!

ashvin said...

Another complication that comes with a name like "Baby" is that you sometimes have to refer to older relatives as Baby-Kochamma ("Aunt-baby") or Baby-achayan ("Uncle-baby").

Michael Higgins said...

Hi Sunil
Thinking of interesting Malayali names, I'm sure there are many cricket announcers who are glad that this fine spinner from Kerala never made the national team.

Pixel8 said...

My mallu classmates back in school had names like Vincy, Prince (his brother's name was Charles!!!!), Shiny. I had a teacher called Gigi`! (My school was run by Mallus!!!)

And btw, I now live in Dubai :D So...err... u know...

Sunil said...

Michael......Ananthapadmanaban must feel really unfortunate...he's a superb spinner. And his name, though quite a tongue twister, is Sanskrit derived, and so would atleast have been managed by many Indian TV producers :-) !

Vincy and Gigi, eh?? (shuddering....)

Vikram A. said...

Hi Sunil,

Chaminda Vaas is not Malayali, but he might have the best name in the world:

Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vaas

Vikram

Soultan of Swing said...

Sunil,
Have had my name (Balakrishnan Sivaraman) ripped apart a zillion times by the folks here in the US. Thankfully the commencement ceremony didnt twist it at all, but that was thanks to the fact that we gave them our names in phonetics! Poor Gautam Kalyanasundaram became Gau-TAM Kaly (like Cali) Ana Sun daram!

Mallu names have also found their way into the pharma industry - paracetaMOL :P (PJ i know)
the brother of Denis Jacob one was too funny.
u wanna know a good mallu male's name = RIJOSH (sounds deadly, like some ramgopal varma movie)! met the bloke on my travels in SC last week.

long time me not blogged....will do so once i'm back swingin' in so-cal!

Srikanth said...

:D
Hey [warning: parochialism ahead], Ananthapadmanabhan is a long name, which might give north Indian commentators a run for their money, and he may be from Kerala too, but he is a Tam - and it's not funny!

anil said...

Hey,
I had blogged abt Mallu names and all long time back.
Check the link here

Mukta said...

Hullo,

Was directed here by Kahini. Ha ha ha ha ha ha!!! (i'm laughing at the humor in the blog and not the fact that kahini told me about your link tho.)

:-D

Anonymous said...

If I may interject a little Punjabi here: Giggle, Sweety and Cutie are REAL names I have come across.

Anita

Amrit said...

I had a friend in college named Fannidhar. In school we used to laugh a lot while reading a chapter on Mokshgundam Vishvaishwarya. But then we also laughed whenever someone said Massachusetts or Ohio, or Mississippi :-).

Amrit
http://www.writingcave.com

Sunil said...

Vikram...Chaminda Vaas does really have an impressive name...as do most sri lankans. But atleast, it's logical, and means something.

Bala....looking fwd to see you writing soon again.

Anil, thanks for the link. I enjoyed reading the article. Mukta, thanks for your comments. Anonymous...Punjabi names are part of folklore, but they pale in comparison to Mallu names! Amrit....Fannidhar, eh? Fanni indeed.

GREATBONG said...

Bobilikumar is a priceless name for a fast over.....Jiju means husband of sister (I think)..though I wonder why you would want to call a kid that.

Surya said...

I agree some Mallu names are funny - but they are the "modern" ones where no one except the poor fella's parents had any idea such alpahabets could be put together. So ya - Jiji, Diji, Kiji, Miju, Niju..whatevers falls under that category.

But some of your examples are Sanskrit derived names or names which have a meaning in Malayalam - and a Malayalee would appreciate them. And I am sure every language has names which can be appreciated only if you understood the language (and culture). For eg. until I learnt Dutch, i had no idea that the name "Bloemendal" meant someone who owns a valley of flowers. And then, if you know about the Dutch fascination for flowers, especially tulips, you appreciate the significance of that name even more. Same goes for all languages.

As for the caste Ezhuthachan, it is traditionally the caste of teachers - Ezhuthu in Malayalam means "writing" and achan, though literally means father, here - I guess could mean someone who teaches the writing. And really! if you don't understand Malayalam, you are not expected to understand Malayalee names/castes. Period. BTW, Tampuran also denotes a caste in Kerala.

Sunil said...

Surya...engngine irikkunnu? Thanks for your long comment. My post was only in good humor and nothing else (as i'd tried to point out). I actually speak fairly decent malayalam (though I can't read it), devour mallu movies (the Mohanlal/Mammutty types), am very familiar with Mallu culture and....have plenty of mallu friends. :-)

I'm also familiar with the meanings of most of the Sanskrit/malayalam names...but just pointed out how complicated or difficult or amusing it can be for someone who doesn't know it. So please don't take offence! I certainly don't take offence to the standard Tamil jokes that fly around.

Suhail said...

Tell me, I have not been been able to go beyond first chapter of GodOfSmallThings, because all the Mammachis, Pappachis and Kochammas have me in knots. I mean, how can one imagine a grandma as 'Baby' that is beyond me. Help, please !!

(*wondering, if you read comments to old articles*)

Sunil said...

Suhail.....I do read comments to old articles...as long as they're still in the main page! :-)

Yeah...GOST can be really hard for someone uninitiated into the world of mallu relatives and names :-)

Srikanth said...

Since you do read comments to old posts, just thought I will mention this:

Fannidhar is probably an alternative spelling of Phanidhar (फणिधर). Phani - snake (Skt), dhara - one who bears (Skt). So Phanidhar - one who bears snakes upon him, which is a bahuvrihi samasa for Lord Siva.

Sunil said...

Srikanth....u da man...

My next post might have some sanskrit in it...will post when time permits me to write. Will greatly appreciate your comments there...

Niket said...

I know of someone who has named his sons "gentleman" and "Jai Bajarangbali". I am not kidding. Of course gentleman has a meaning (but first name). But bajju just takes the cake: I can understand "bajarangbali", but why add a "Jai" in front of it!

Recently, I saw a video of Russel Peters's standup. He was talking about African names, specifically "!xobile". The exclaimation is a [click] sound you make with you tongue touching the roof of your mouth. Its pronounced "[click]-Zo-Bee-Lay". Wow!

Anonymous said...

to the original author,
fabulous fascinations.. thas all I can say.
-matt

Cherian Kuriakose said...

Well, I am proud of my name....
I wonder what makes you so grouchy!

Did some Mallu with a funny name screw your girl?

Anonymous said...

my name is baby john. i wonder what my parents were thinking when they named me

Anonymous said...

I am a mallu. I came across your blog doing a search on my name "biju". Generally it's a boy's name but I'm a girl. It's pretty fun to have an uncommon name, you make friends fast. However, it sucks not knowing the meaning of it and where it comes from. Your blog's hilarious and lot of my relative's names are in there. I've never understood the Mallu reasoning behind some of these names and am doubtful if the parents do either other than just following tradition. I've spoken with my parents and other mallu parents and they don't have a valid explanation behind choosing a name other than "well that's how it is done".
Certainly makes life interesting. Very funny site.
Biju

Anonymous said...

from my experience, mallu names are easy to pronounce(with the exception of bobbilikumar). I have seen them struggling with names like meenakshi,sundaram,durairaj,pandiyan and many more like that.....i even have heard people asking why certain names are easy(especially mallu) while others are such a toung-twister. Usually i will end up explaining to them that mallu names come from a part of India where almost all the people are literate, where living conditions are comparable to developed nations, a nook where people are intellectually at a higher level than the rest of India.

Anonymous said...

To the previous poster, what does an easy to pronounce mallu name have anything to do with literacy and quality of life in Kerala? I don't disagree with the level of literacy in my home state or the quality of life, but I don't think that has to do with ease of pronunciation of names chosen for our kids.
My parents named me "Susan", which was easy to get around with in school. Of course, now I am going retro-back to my roots and naming my kids Indian names of Sanskrit origin. Yes, a little harder to pronounce than "Susan", but in this ever changing global world we live in, it is becoming more acceptable.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

just came acroos this blog....here my pennies worth...my husband's name is 'tigi'. Guessing where it came from...the same way most of the mallu names evolved...his dad's name is thomas and his mom's and put the first letters together with an 'i' and there you have it--tigi.
Imagine my surprise when i found out that someone had listed my husband's name among the female participants in a gathering...and beleive it or not, we found out why...because there was another tigi, a girl, attending the same gathering!!!!

Anonymous said...

You touched up on a strange thing about Malayalee naming norms that is very unique. Usually, most of the other cultures have a standard set of popular names and those names would have some meaning or history. Malayalees don't care about it: either they borrow from other cultures or make up something meaningless or that have very bad meaning (one of my wife's friend's name is Shanty). I think, Malayalees care about how the names sounded; not really cared what it suggests or means.

I think, the days of making up names are over. Now they are borrowed mainly from North India: Nikhil, Navin, Varun, Tharun etc.

I don't think anybody would name their kid with a beautiful, traditional name such as "Balachandran" any more.
- Thomas

Anonymous said...

Su - Nil ? No Good!

Anonymous said...

I am a malayalee, and my name is Biju as well, though I am male. My mother chose the name for me with the pronunciation of the french word "Bijou" (pronounced Beezhoo), meaning
"jewel." However, i've never found the Indian meaning of the name. Can anyone help me?

Sangeetha said...

I'm a mallu too with a not-so-queer name.. he he! Loved your blog though, the most humorous piece on Mallus I've read! Keep it going!

PS: Those of you Mallus who seem to take offense... hey guys, take a chill pill!

hulio82 said...

try this one... anoj achan kunji kanja! he was a kida in my clase!

then there are the ciby's, aby's, joby's, baby's..

which reminds me, this kid tony baby- his sisters name was titi baby..!

Oh, and last but not least, some dude with the last name tatipalli... i mean come on now! tatipalli?

sreekanth said...

very nice..

I agree that lot of "modern" mallu names doesnt have any meaning..

But names like ramanujan,ananthapadbhnabhan etc have beautiful meanings.. to understand the meanings, needs to know the language and culture..

(what abt Arnold Schwarzenegger,DICK cheney ,Nicky BUTT)

Anonymous said...

Hey common, dont tell me u dont kow the meaning of the name shanti.. it means peace. Dont talk abt it when u dont know. And Aby is derived from Abraham.

harish raghavan said...

This is quite intersting ! and good to see that thers quite a no of hits.
while readin this,i remember "afterall whats there in a name" (oru peril enthiriykunnu.... thast in malayalam ;)
but there is quite a lot in a name. Or the curent world cares for !

Most of the indian names originate from sanskrit or dravidian, mostly god names (we have quite a no. of god names for another 10,000 years) ... thats the practice everywhere in this world !

While talking about mallu names, there was a time in kerala( i am not sure rest of india) when lower caste people were not allowed to use godly names , that was supposed to be for the upper castes. So they had to settle with names like koran , chaaakku, cheeraan ( quite funny name). Still the tribal names sounds like that (may be its quite good name withing them).

So, names mostly relate to culture, tradition , community and the locality. I hope none of the above people wud pronounce german, afrikan names properly.

To Babyjohn above : you always have the option to change ur name ;)

Anita said...

I bet... 90% of the people who have commented for this blog are mallus.. I have seen many a times that mallus are the only people who like criticising themsleves rather than appreciating the better things. Names mean a lot, but then these days its 'easy pronounciation' which matters.. so all you guys out there those who dont like your own names, please go and change it.. instead of blaming your parents or the ones who gave u the name.

spongy_subset said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
spongy_subset said...

so far, i have seen only mallus having the strangest of names ,perhaps as one of us said , for easy pronounciation....

there is shiney , joby , jijo , shaaji ,shijoy , gobi , supran , tommy ,rimmy , jimmy ,shina or shyyna......even something like bobbin!
aah the list is endless....

and they actually give names like " saajan " to their houses....i have seen N number of houses in kerala with that name!!!

also ,certainly we mallus have a knack for mocking our own kind!!!
at perhaps at the end of the day , wld prefer our perfect little mallu existence just as it is...

and bobbilikumar????!!!!! perhaps the best mallu name ever!!!hee hee

Anonymous said...

this page was interesting. nobody has pointed out though, that a huge number of mallus in the 80s started naming their kids with names derived from their own. they would come up with names like biji and siji with the first syllable of each of the father's and mother's name.

also, the other tradition was to have rhyming names for siblings. this led to some funny results. i personally know two sisters named lucy and lousy. also merin, terin, sherin and gerin...

Anonymous said...

Its better than Fakruddin.... the guy only faq's the whole day!!!

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Suvi Nadakuzhackal said...

I liked the name paraceta mol!!

Even though malayali names are meaningless, they are much more user friendly than names from rest of India. Many of them are really hard to spell and pronounce. They may have a meaning. But who cares about the meaning when they are calling some one a name?