By Rahla Khan
Apart from giving a person an identity, names also shape personalities and affect personal growth in ways both subtle and strange. But while some of us consciously realize it, others don’t spare it any thought
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Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychoanalysis, often began his sessions by asking a person about his name. You can also get to know more about yourself through these queries:
1. Imagine your parents discussing what name to give you a week before you were born. Was your sex known at that time? Did they want a boy or a girl? Some couples want their first born to be a boy and their second a girl. In the choice of first names, parents sometimes express these wishes.
2. Some babies are named after other people-either relatives or famous personalities. Were you named after anybody? If so, who and why? Has it had any effect on your personality?
3. Many children are named after legendary heroes. Later in childhood, their stories are retold to the children to identify with their heroic deeds. Can you remember stories you have heard as a child which include your own name?
4. Nearly all names have meanings. Were your parents aware of the meaning of the names they gave you? When did you find out what your name means? Who chose your name? If your parents chose it for its meaning, what does this tell you about the way they felt about your arrival in their lives?
5. You may have adopted a new first name for yourself that may fit into the concept of what you want to be or how you want to be perceived. Do you have a nickname? Do you remember when and why you started preferring it?
6. How and by whom were your parents named? Have you noticed any relation between their name and their personality? How old were you when you first learnt their names?
7. Do people make, or have they ever made jokes about your name? You may have been taught to be proud of it, or you may feel ashamed of it for some reason. A tendency to joke about the name of a person may result from a need to compensate for shyness, so you can get to know the name instead of knowing the person.
I spent most of my life explaining the meaning and repeating the spelling of my name, yet I would never consider changing it. Quirky, difficult, exotic, but I fell my name is an intrinsic part of me.
‘Vedic rishis believed that a name defined the child’s character-its face, figure, temper, morals, tastes and profession,’ writes Maneka Gandhi in the Penguin Book of Hindu Names. For example, the name Anamika (literally ‘without a name’) means that the child’s future is what she wants to make it, since she is not hedged in by any preordained limitations. Similarly, Prophet Mohammed taught that children should be given good names, while those with unsavory connotations should be avoided.
In ancient India, children were named after gods and goddesses, going by the Vedic concept of naam-roop abhed, that which believes in the unity between name and form. Islam also considers it a child’s right to be invested with a good name, so that it can benefit from the barakah (blessing) associated with it. It is believed that reciting Vishnu’s 1000 names (sahasra naam) or Allah’s 99 names could recreate the same qualities in the reciter.
Psychologists too apprehend the effect a person’s name has on his or her life. In his book Relationships, psychologist Andrew Lake writes: ‘Your personality is identified by your name. But when you were born, you were unaware of having a name and it had to be chosen for you by your parents. When they decide what you should be called, what were they saying about what they hoped you would become?
Ma Prem Usha, tarot reader, believes that since a name is a vibration, which strikes you several times a day, it can profoundly affect your destiny. She says: ‘When I took sanyas (monkhood) in the ’70s, Bhagwan Rajneesh changed my name. All women were given the prefixes Ma Prem, to recognize the maternal instinct and love intrinsic in all women. And most sanyasins (nuns) epitomize these two qualities.’
Nowadays, however, people look for phonetically pleasing names and hardly give any thought about their significance. Indian names like Minna (fat), Ambika (little mother), Mina (fish) don’t hold much meaning, while Anita, Rina, Tina, mean nothing. Similarly, the Phul, Sona, Pyar families of Indian names (Phulvati, Phulrani, Sona, Sonam) have no roots in Sanskrit or any other classical Indian language. Even the ‘Behari‘ in our Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee‘s name is a distortion of Vihari (traveler). Muslim names like Rukhsanah (shining) and Reshma (silk thread) are actually of Persian origin. Others are foreign derivatives like Zareena (from the Russian Czarina) or Rubina (ruby).
Poonam Nagpal, holistic healer and teacher, advises: ‘Use the name that is in the horoscope to address your child, because it is important to use the same name all the time or you contribute to the lack of harmony in a child’s life. Add the suffix ‘angel’ to the name and you will have an angel. Yad bhaavam tad bhavathi (As you feel or think, so it will be).’
Talking about his unusual name, Jug Suraiya, columnist and author says; ‘I was going to be named Jagannath since I was born at Jagannath Puri, but thanks to my mother’s protests, we settled for Jagdish.’ However, they had a servant by the same name. So, to avert confusion, his sister named him Jug and the name stuck. Of course there are benefits. ‘People can’t call me Mr. Jug or Jugji as is the norm, which makes for more informal encounters,’ says Jug.
Saniyasnin Khan, publisher of Delhi-based Al-Risala group of magazines, hasn’t given his name much thought other than having people mispronounce it all the time. His name means ‘second of the two’ and refers to a Quranic sura (Al Tauba) in which the Prophet and his companion Abu Bakr are guided by Allah to remain in a cave when their enemies are in hot pursuit. In the sura, Aaabu Bakr is referred to as the second of the two, and since Saniyasnain is also the second born, the name seemed apt.
Traditionally, people believe that names influence a child’s personality. Why else would parents go to such pains in finding the perfect name for their unborn child?
Disabled activist Javed Abidi is a case in point. Born three years into their marriage, his parents were overjoyed to have him just when their longing for children was verging on desperation. But there was a catch—their son was born with a condition in which a portion of his spine was protruding through the back. The doctors gave him only 20 days to live. Stung by this ultimatum, his father named him Javed, one who lives on. Today at 34 and with a demanding career as scholar, journalist and activist, Javed says: ‘Somehow I had the feeling that I must live to prove my father’s faith.’
One of the aims of occult sciences is to seek out and enumerate anything that has the power, however slight, to sway a person’s destiny. Not least among them is an individual‘s name.
‘It is within reason to expect that a name whose meaning is favorable can exert an auspicious influence on its owner while the bearer of a name sordid or evil in its association may be handicapped in his moral or spiritual development. In time, therefore, the name may materially affect the character of the person who bears it,’ says The Handbook of Fortune.
Bindu, art director of a newspaper, agrees, having observed a definite link between his name and its origin-the moon. Originally named Vimalendu (vimal means clean, indu is the moon) since he was born on an exceptionally beautiful full moon night, his name was abbreviated in his school days. He remembers being ragged by schoolmates for having not only a girlish name, but one that was shared by a yesteryears’ vamp from Indian cinema.
In college, Bindu dropped his surname and discovered his penchant for art during a college festival. Bindu feels his life is closely linked to the moon: he feels rejuvenated in terms of moods and sexual energies when the moon is waxing and tends to feel low when it wanes. He also notices a strong feminine element in him, being more emotional and sensitive, and suspects he possesses a feminine sixth sense that has helped him in many situations.
Meenu, Delhi bureau chief of an Indian, women’s magazine, follows her in-laws’ policy of not using surnames. She says: ‘People think there’s a feminist angle to it, but I am simply doing in Rome as Romans do. In any case, I feel that since a name is an identification and a link to the outside world, and one ought to shed links to the world as one grows, I think of it as the first step towards merging myself with the Whole.’
Although Meenu herself doesn’t believe in the importance of names, she feels that her son’s name has had a bearing on his personality. She says: ‘When I was expecting my first son I used to read the Bhagavad Gita. There, I came across the word concept of Saatvik (the ascetic, the pure), and decided to give my son that name. And he has really turned out that way—vegetarian and the most honest kid I’ve ever seen! Sometimes its disconcerting to see him being so good.’
Contrarily, people who consider their names unwieldy find it difficult to integrate their personality until they come to terms with it. Premlata Gupta, businesswoman and personal growth enthusiast, always hated her name and refused to identify with it, preferring to call herself Prema instead. She now feels: ‘you may think that your name is arbitrary, but I believe that a name is about as arbitrary as the parents you are born to. There is usually a karmic reason behind it: both are bases around which you evolve. Today, I find myself linked to the concept of a ‘vine of love’, after years of being uncomfortable with my name. It’s almost as if I have decided to live up to it.’
People often change their names to reflect an altered sense of self or mind. While being initiated into sanyas (monkhood), monks are always given different names, signifying the death of their old self. Ghulam Rasool Santosh, a Kashmiri Muslim Tantric painter, adopted his wife Santosh Chopra’s first name to signify his sense of unity and the inseparable nature of their union.
Sultan Shahin, columnist and New Ager, took numerological considerations into account when he adopted his name in his early’20s. He says: ‘My adopted name Shahin refers to a mythical royal falcon in Iqbal’s (an Urdu poet) poetry, a metaphor for dignity, self-reliance and self-respect. Later, when I studied numerology. I discovered that the traditional way of spelling Shaheen adds up to the number 29, which is perhaps the worst vibration one can give oneself. Shahin, on the other hand, adds up to 24, considered one of the most auspicious vibrations. So unknowingly, I balanced myself and christened myself correctly.’
Numerology also plays an important part for people who rename themselves in mid-life or spell their names unconventionally (Rashme, Rushme, Rashmee, Rashmi, Rshmi). Usually, people in the entertainment business rename themselves for instant identification with the masses. So, Yusuf Khan, the Pathan lad from Lahore, now in Pakistan, turns Dilip Kumar, a nondescript Norma Jean Baker becomes the glamorous Marilyn Monroe and Anne Rosenbaum, a Russian Jew becomes the individualist Ayn Rand. Other considerations are names with a particular syllable or letter, like Subhash Ghai’s fetish for heroines with names starting with M.
Karma, image, behavior—all are connected to what you are called. So, when confronted by a disparaging ‘what’s in a name‘ don’t despair—actually, there’s lots in a name!
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