What Is In A (Sur)name?
What Is In A (Sur)name?
Had Shakespeare been born as a South Indian and been alive today, I am sure, he would have re-phrased his famous words “what is in a name” as “what is in a surname”.
I am one among the millions of South Indians who do not have a surname along with their name and have failed to convince my western brothers – who themselves have surnames which at the time reflects their caste or even places of their birth – that there can be names without a surname.
For the uninformed, the many south Indian surnames as Reddy, Naidu, Nadar, Nair, Gowda, etc. are not surnames in the real sense but simply indicate the caste to which the persons belongs.
My case is more pathetic. Once upon a time, I did have a surname but, a fourth standard language teacher thought better of it and unceremoniously removed the surname with the reason that “it did not rhyme well with my name”. Little did I realize at that time, that time, one day it would make me look like a child without father!
My long stint in the western part of India where I moved in to find my bread and butter, made me feel inadequate and at times squirm in my seat. While my name itself proved to be un-pronounceable for many, and I had to explain patiently the origin and reasons for bearing such a name. The situation became worse at times when I confessed that I have only initials and no surname.
Whether it was the man at the rationing office or the officer at the bank, everyone thought I was impersonating someone else! At times matter reached boiling point resulting in a war of words and threatened to divide the country already divided on a linguistic basis.
I contemplated changing my name and also adding a surname; the fear of un-known kept me away from the Gazette office. However, the final nail in the coffin was appropriate, hit by the income tax officer. While he had no problem in accepting – rather gleefully- a month’s salary from me towards income tax, he raised all hell when I applied for a permanent account number and returned my application with the reason, “incomplete name”.
Exasperated, I finally took the advice of a friend and approached the Maharashtra Gazette office and applied for incorporating the surname.
On the D-day, I stood in front of the office sweating profusely in anticipation of uncomfortable questions. After scrutinizing my application with a quizzical look on his face, he said; “do you want to delete your surname”? “No Sir, I just want to add one”, I said.
“Strange”, said the man. “You are the fifth person with this kind of application since yesterday. But the other four have applied for dropping their surname while you want to add one. It beats me why all of a sudden so many people want to delete their surname” he lamented.
I did not understand why he was perturbed. To my question why would anyone want to drop their surname – when I was longing to add one – he simply pushed the other four applications towards me.
All of them who wanted to drop their surname had the same surname which I so desperately wanted to add – RAO!