My interest in names of people and places was sparked off with an interesting incident. I was travelling with my boss from Mumbai to Alibaug. As we approached the town of Pen [which has earned undeserved attention, thanks to Indrani Mukherjee – Sheena Bora], I told him that Pen was my hometown.
“Why Pen is called Pen?”
He asked, “Why Pen is called Pen?” In other words he was asking etymology of Pen. I could not answer it, and I felt very embarrassed. You proudly announce something to your boss and he ‘takes your wicket’ by asking such a simple question – it stung me like a bee.
So I went to my uncle, an exceptionally knowledgeable person, and repeated the question. Mind you this, after doing a lot of ‘search’ and failing to get an answer. [There was no Google then, this incident took place in late seventies.] He answered the question.
To put it in his words “The word is correctly pronounced as PeNN. Emphasis on the last letter. In the early days a merchant’s caravan travelled 20 miles. And then stopped for the day. People from the ‘ghats’ who wanted to reach Dharamtar [it was a port town near Alibaug doing trade with Arabs] came down to Khopoli and rested. Then they travelled to Pen. The distance is 20 miles [32 Kms]. They halted at Pen which was the last place of residence before hitting Dharamtar [about 8-10 Km away] the next day, and PeNN means ‘place of residence.’”
Cheers! I found the answer finally! Thus started my habit of asking people why a place or person was named whatever the name was.
And it led to interesting discoveries. What follows are true stories, though I have not identified the persons for obvious reasons.
I asked why I was named Vivek and made discovery that my real name is Vivekanand! So kept because my uncle was influenced by the thoughts and work of the great Swami. [I have blogged about it here http://vivek-uvaach.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/a-rose-called-by-any-name.html]
A Child Names Itself
I once asked a young lady colleague [who is now a high profile HR honcho] why she was named ‘A….’ and came the shocker. She said that she never liked her name ‘Shefali’ and insisted on her parents, as a child, that it must be changed to ‘A….’. They finally relented!! Wow!
Two [Beauties] in One
In my interaction with a young manager, I asked him what the name of his infant daughter was, and he responded proudly ‘Ashmita.’ This shocked me because ‘Ashm’ in Sanskrit means a stone! I asked him if it was ‘Asmita’ which means pride. He was baffled and told me that he did not know about ‘Ashm.’ When he saw his little daughter he thought she was as beautiful as Aishwarya Rai [Ash as she is called] and Sushmita Sen. So he just combined Ash and ‘mita’ of Sushmita to make Ashmita!
In the Name of GFs
I was once introduced to a young Punjabi girl from Pune. About twenty years younger than me. I was puzzled on knowing her name – it was quite a common name but more so among girls of my generation, and that too it was found only among Maharashtrians, and never among Punjabis. The response was interesting which she provided smiling and laughing all the way: Her uncle had fallen in love with a Marathi girl in Pune, but they did not get married for whatever reasons. So when the uncle saw his beautiful new born baby-niece, he asked his brother and sister in law to name her after his GF! They obliged!!
Talking of GFs there is another story which I must share. One of my cousin’s name is Nivedita, but called ‘Nita’ at home. When another cousin decided to marry his GF, he realised her name was also Nita and that there would be two Nitas in the family. So he named her ‘Sunita!’ in marriage. The prefix ‘Su’ which can mean ‘good’ or ‘better.’ No complaints from anybody but it one could hear giggles in the wedding hall. [Changing the name of the bride is an old custom found in almost all Indian communities though it is no longer practised in some communities, but continues to be practised in Maharashtra].
Telephone Directory Helps
The organisation where I worked for 33 years is now called Asian Paints Ltd. Why Asian? The founder-Directors decided at the time of formation of the Company to look up a telephone directory at random and their eyes fell on the word ‘Asian.’ So it was named Asian Oil and Paint Industries P Ltd.
‘Dhilla’ Work in Delhi
Do names have any influence on the character of a place? You decide. Let me just quote, what I found on internet, about etymology of Delhi.
A popular etymology for Delhi comes from the legend of the king Anangapala II, who attempted to erect a pillar on the head of the King of Snakes (Vasuki), an action that would guarantee the permanence of his dynasty. He doubted the pillar was being put in the correct location, so he had it withdrawn. Upon removal of the pillar, the blood of the snake was found on it, so he had it replaced. Nevertheless, because of Anangapala’s lack of confidence, the pillar and his kingdom were thereafter considered dhilla, that is, ‘loose’. [Read about it here: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Delhi#Etymology]
All these thoughts came to my mind because I started searching for the etymology of ‘Wimbledon’ where I am presently put up. Wimbledon belonged to Wynnman or Wymbald, it is the personal name of the landowner. ‘Dūn’ meant ‘hill’ in Middle English (and is the origin of the word ‘down’ with that sense). Wimbledon gained the latter part of their names from their hilltop locations.
Names and Hidden Agenda
I have already written about changing name of the bride. A friend got in trouble for NOT changing name of his bride. Believe it or not! This is a true story.
When my friend got engaged to his fiancée, he asked her if she would like her name to be changed in marriage, mentioning that he was not at all for this outdated custom, a relic of child marriages. She said there was no need to change. So her name was not changed. At the honeymoon the newly married couple met his classmate, a beautiful girl who was very chirpy-chirpy. Coincidentally her name and his bride’s name were same, a fact that did not escape the new bride’s attention!
On return to the hotel, she told him, “Now I know why you never wanted to change my name!” My principled friend who was against the old custom suddenly found facing the charge of being manipulative.
Such is life!
Vivek S Patwardhan