Wednesday, March 3, 2021

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What is in a name?  Identity and Genealogy

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I am not in favor of fanciful names for human beings, yet I cannot resist to have a meaningful name for my own kids. 

It is customary for most Hindus and Buddhists to have a formal naming ceremony for  a newborn. It entails some rituals too, for a newborn cannot be given a name without consideration given regarding  the timing of the birth. Usually a fortune teller is consulted, a priest called upon to do the rituals and the alphabet letter which closely fits the position of stars determined. At times awkward sounding names are selected; many having no real meanings. 

Thag Bahadur or Chhali Maya are not at all great liars or cheaters, neither Sangay the replica of the Enlightened Buddha. Yet, they conform to the natural identity of the ethno-religious cohort of the population they belong to. They reflect a sense of the traditional practice of assigning names based on the cosmic position of the stars and the moon. 

Vice-president elect Kamala Harris is American child of an Indian mother, yet a serving public officer as attorney, a senator and now vice-president. Has she felt an urge to change her name or at least spell it in a different way so that the majority of English speakers with American accent can pronounce it correctly? Has she felt ridiculed in her office for sounding more like a Hindu and Indian rather than a US senator? It seems not. . 

Deepak Chopra did not feel the need  to change his name despite being in the US as a physician and a spiritual teacher for half the century. But his son changed the name and dissolved into the melting pot. Both Dr. Sanjeev and Deepak Chopra have earned merit in their respective fields of medicine and spirituality, yet remain deeply attached to their Indian heritage and often take pilgrimages to religious sites in India. 

The anecdotes are examples of  preserving identity and retaining  ancestral links. This is how we maintain diversity in mixed societies, yet keep the properties of our origin. Maintaining diversity, whether plants, animals or humans, is vital for keeping the indigenous knowledge and cultures alive. That is why environmentalists emphasize on preserving biodiversity of the world, and why I am a supporter of biodiversity conservation. 

Many of us live  in mature democracies where individual rights are given high importance and respected. So, each of us can expect to  be called by our own name, pronounced and spelled correctly and to be able to point out when anyone pronounces our name incorrectly. 

When I first came to America people often asked me whether they had pronounced my  name correctly. Despite trying, none of the native English speakers can say my name the way it should be pronounced, yet I always say my name to them my way, in the original version, and not by their way of tongue. 

Will the last name Dahal be turned to Dahl, Sinchuri to Sanctuary; Nepal to Naipaul and Gurung to Gurong in the years to come so as to fit completely into any conglomerate? 

I vividly remember my grade ten lesson of “AALU”  by satirical essayist of Nepal, Bhairav Aryal. He rightly pointed out in his essay that we Nepali people can blend with other societal ingredients just like the potato can go well with any vegetable in a mixed curry. While saying this, I don’t intend to promote ethnic bias and racial prejudice to put Nepali cultural identity in superior status that it never deserves modification or alteration. 

Your name helps you to connect to your ancestry, so keep it alive. 

 

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