“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, wrote William Shakespeare, centuries ago, in Romeo and Juliet. Juliet Capulet explains to Romeo Montague that if Romeo was not called Romeo, and if he was not a Montague, it would have made no difference to her; she would still love him for Romeo Montague is nothing but a name. So, indeed what’s in a name? Not so easy to answer when you have a name that goes beyond six letters, and counts down to fifteen letters with the surname added to it! Shakespeare’s archetypal quote will be of no aid when people find your name highly difficult to pronounce, misspell it, and embarrass you!
My parents named me after the intellectual princess of Vidarbha, Lopamudra. Lopamudra means the one born with distinctive beauty and intelligence. Princess Lopamudra is reckoned amongst the most influential women of Vedic India. The Rig Veda is full of numerous hymns written by this philosopher wife of sage Agastya. So far so good for the Princess, not for me though! People find it a herculean task to pronounce a name with Sanskrit origin; thanks to most peoples’ dearth of Sanskrit knowledge.
I grew up in the eastern half of India, mostly Orissa-Bengal, where to my good luck the name is not alien. So, I was saved of the enormous job of making people understand that it’s ‘Lopamudra’, and not ‘lop-mudra’, or ‘lopam-udra’, or ‘lopam-dra’ or ‘lopamudhra’, which I had to do when I moved to the western half of the country. Ironically, Lopamudra originated in the western half of India – Vidarbha, but this did not rescue me of the pronunciation-stigma associated with my name.
To add to the pronunciation issue, is the length of the name. I have to squeeze the letters in Lopamudra to fit it into the space provided in most application forms. My surname ‘Mishra’ makes it lengthier. I have to use a lot of handwriting-tricks to put down the gigantic ‘Lopamudra Mishra’ in the minuscule space provided in application forms. When I received my graduation certificate, I was dumbfounded to see my name: Lopamudra Rabindranath Mishra; many thanks to the University norm that appends your father’s name to your name! When I have to spell out my name over the telephone, it takes more than a millennium for the person on the other end to decipher what I am saying. And, when they actually decipher it, it’s wrong.
Lopamudra over the time became Lopa. Most of my friends, and acquaintances started calling me Lopa. I was not annoyed with this as opposed to many people who immensely dislike their names to be cut short. It’s not my official name, but yes it’s more than official. Lopa is much shorter than Lopamudra, and definitely much easier to pronounce. This was a tremendous relief until a new bunch of names dawned into my life. I was now introduced to new avatars of Lopa: ‘loba’, ‘loma’, ‘lupa’ ‘lopha’, and the champion of all versions, ‘Rupa’- an altogether new name! Could I be more blessed? My father consoled me with, “It’s our tradition to have two names, daak-naam (nickname), and bhaalo-naam (good name). You are loved so much that you have so many daak-naams!” My father’s cajole did not help me laugh at the myriads of misspellings created from my name. I was tired of being misspelt.
A year ago, our house-maid had brought her daughter along to work. While she cleaned the house, her daughter sat in a corner of the kitchen. My mother had asked her, “What’s your name?” She had replied, “Nakusha.” “Nakusha means…?” my mother had asked. “Unwanted”, she had said promptly. I and my mother had exchanged glances of surprise. Why would someone name their child unwanted! What was more disturbing was the fact that people in a village in Satara name all new born girls as Nakusha – undesirable in this world. This derogatory practice was the result of couples’ dislike to have a girl child. If the rural couples had two or more daughters, and if the third turned out to be a daughter again, they named her Nakusha. (In 2011, the Zila Parishad in Satara identified 280 Nakushas from school records, and renamed these girls under the Nakusha campaign.)
So, what’s in a name? True it is that Nakusha would still be the pretty girl she is had she been named anything else. But can this convince her to take refuge in the classic quote? The whole Nakusha incident brought a new perspective for me. I had been perturbed so much that people can’t pronounce my name. Think about Nakusha. She would have been more than happy had she been named Lopamudra or, say Lopa.
A name is one of the foremost aspects of one’s identity, and yet Shakespeare says that irrespective of the name, it’s the person that counts. Truly a name does not say anything about the individual; just puts a label to the individual’s bottled essence. Someone had suggested that I can change my name if it bothers me so much. Well my name never bothered me; it’s the way people made it sound that bothered me! So, from now on whenever I encounter a new avatar of Lopamudra or Lopa, I just say, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names”.