January 24, 2010

What's in a name

My name is अश्विन. The reason for writing it in Devanagari script is because I prefer to use this syllabic script when I care about the pronunciation. In English I prefer to write it as, primarily because my parents preferred to write it as, Ashwin. I do not know why they chose a "w" and not a "v".  However, my birth certificate has it as Ashwini with the last i cancelled and my NCC certificate has it as Asvin. Luckily most of the other certificates and my passport have my name as Ashwin. The funny thing is that in my passport my fathers name is part of my given name. We do not have middle names in India as people have in other parts of the world. Therefore at times when forms explicitly mention name as in passport I write "Ashwin Satish" -- the two named monster.

My surname/family-name is even more complicated. Officially according my family tree I am a पै - Pai as in Paisa :). However my official family name is complicated being a descendant of the community whose migration can be tracked to places all over Asia and Europe. My most recent forefathers are from Shirvanthe. In the temples in Goa my name can be called out as Shirvanthe Ashwinkumar Pai. Phew this is nowhere close to Ashwin Rao. The story of Rao is really convoluted and funny.  Because my recent forefathers came from Shirvanthe, my grandfather (father's father) whose name was (पांडुरंगाराऊ) Pandurangarao went by the name Shirvanthe Pandurangarao. I am not sure who was zealous to convert this to S.P. Rao, however, this coupled with the lack of consistency, made my fathers surname Rao. Sadly some of his brothers use the surname Shirvanthe. Yes my fathers brothers have different family names or should I say surnames. The name (राऊ) Rao, has thus stuck to me but to complicate stuff even more, my birth certificate has it spelt as Rav (राव) .

So my name is "अश्विन राऊ /राव" (Ashwin Rao).

A few weeks back during lunch I was asked to confirm if my name was pronounced correctly. What I heard was something similar to आश्विन, i.e., the अ (a as in a name) was replaced by an आ (aa as in open your mouth for the dentist). The primary reason for this was because the letter 'a' is pronounced as 'आ' (aa) in French. Definetely I wouldn't have complaints because most of my relatives call me अश्विन (ashwin), अश्विना (ashwina), अतिन (atin), or अचिन (achin) depending on their age. But, then there have been times when my name is pronounced as अस्विन (asvin), A-swine, Oshbin, and Oshobini by my fellow countrymen. One of the funniest incident based on the pronunciation (which I can recollect) is as follows.

One day my name was being called out in the Zanskar hostel by a guy who wanted the keys to the laundry room which was shared by 450 other hostel-mates (yes we like big hostels). I had returned the keys to the room and signed off. But the guy who took them after me had taken them without writing his name. My name was written in capitals "ASHWIN RAO". So for this reason a name, which should have been mine, was being called. I am not sure what was in that guys mind or tongue because the name I heard was अश्विनी राय (ASHWINI RAI) followed by intermittent curses. Well I guess he was hoping for an Aishwarya Rai but I believe seeing a guy rather than a celebrity in a boys hostel at IIT must have pissed him off even further. I had taken some time to respond as no matter which part of the planet you are from, there is no way "ASHWIN RAO" can be called "ASHWINI RAI". I wanted to argue with him but it would have been futile as I believe in teaching only those who can be taught. Further, this was proof for me regarding the extra 'i' in my birth certificate, but this guy had gone further and replaced and 'o' with an 'i' in my surname as well :).

When people find it difficult to remember Ashwin I tell them "October" or "Octobre" because I simply do not care how you call my name!

1 comment:

Tejaswini Shenoy said...

Hehe... Well atleast you haven't had to suffer through shortening of your name...

Here's what bruising my name took