'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Coming To Terms With My Name

Sunil Laxman has an interesting post on the oddity of Malayali names and that has prompted this post on my own name. Yes, I am basically 'Mallu'; the name 'Nandakumar', though now old-fashioned, has no obvious oddity and has a reasonably clear and simple derivation. Even then,...

I need to briefly introduce a certain manager I used to work for once upon a time. He was called 'Infy' (behind his back; for it was not his name. He was no Mallu). The reason for the epithet - oh yes, it had NOTHING to with 'Infosys' either. It was short for 'infinite loop'! - was his very pronounced tendency to get into an infinitely repetitive mode whenever he saw or imagined any difference of opinion with anybody. Infy would often get into this mode in serious business discussions and respond to diverse attempts from different viewpoints to differ even slightly with him by steadfastly repeating verbatim whatever he had said in the previous 'iteration'. And he would do this with metronomic efficiency and ruthlessness until the adversary (or the victim) gave up the argument (or on life). This unique trait of his extended to various other spheres of activity as well and he was held in much fear. But even this redoubtable character met his match - of all things, in this name of mine, thus...

Infy would send me some official email spelling my userid (same as my name: nandakumar) thus: nandkumar@... The mail would bounce since the middle 'a' was skipped. Then he would call me to his cabin and ask me to spell my name, describe how strange that 'a' feels to him and how in the 'North' the name is spelt 'Nand Kumar' or 'Nandkumar' and why that is correct and so on. He would ask me why my name has no 'h' ("In the South they put an 'h' - arbitratily in many names; actually you guys pronounce the letter 'Hetch', don't you?") and finally, he would note down the 'wrong' spelling for future use, only to repeat the entire act within a few days and give me practically the same lecture on how my name is wrong. Finally, one day, something seemed to have snapped within the well-oiled machine; Infy was heard, his voice sounding rather vexed, from a few cubicles away: "Arey, Nandkumar! what is your name?"

Nandakumar, a rather common name among Keralans born in the span of a generation (1950-1975 approx) is not Mallu in origin or spelling/pronunciation. It is a variant of a compound Sanskrit name for Krishna formed of two parts 'nanda:' and 'kumara:'; due to its Sanskrit origins, it is an all-India name. No Mallu born before 1900 had this name; it is an import in that sense. As for the spelling/pronuncitaion, the authentic Mallu way to put it would be 'Nandakumaran' (the last 'n' is a south Dravidian masculine marker). The proper Northern spelling would have been 'Nandkumar'. Infy apparently had his facts right - the way my name is spelt is neither here nor there.

the scenario became more complex more recently when I casually searched the index of 'Britannica' for my name - I did it out of sheer joblessness. And surprise(!), it was there and spelt my way too: 'Nandakumar'. There was an 18th century Bengali, who was an exact namesake of mine. This chap tried to create some minor trouble (in the form of corruption allegations) for Warren Hastings, then GuvGeneral of India, and for his troubles, was promptly finished off on trumped up charges by the latter's henchmen.

The Bengali pronunciation often retains the 'a's the end of Sanskrit words or names unlike say, Hindi- Punjabi, which chop them off. For example, Bongs have names like 'Prashanta' (where the last 'a' appears to a Hindiwallah as an add-on whereas it is the latter who has actually done some chopping). The 'Nanda' part of my name follows this pattern. But the Bongs do not appear to be doing this 'a retention' consistently. They do not spell/pronounce 'kumar' as 'kumara' as they probably should have. Indeed, Sri Lankans, who have some common linguistic ancestry with Bengalis (in the form of a shared Pali inheritance), do have names like (cricketer) 'Pushpakumara'. And it is not as if Bongs trim the 'a' at the end always; sometimes they do not: as in 'Vivekananda', a compound name like 'Nandakumar'. So, if at all there is a problem with my name, the 'fault' lies with Bong phonetics.

I could perhaps have told Infy I have a Bengali name with an authentic Bengali spelling. For a self-declared North Indian like him (actually, he hailed from somewhere on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border - at best, well, a borderline case!), a Bengali name might just have felt 'cooler' (or at least less of an irritation) than a Mallu one; in view of the powers he wielded, that was perhaps a chance worth taking!


  • At 9:35 AM, Blogger Sunil said…

    Hehe...nice post Nandakumar...

    The "a" in your name would be the correct transliteration spelling, since the a is a part of the sanskrit originial. Most hindi speakers (though hindi is derived from sanskrit) do not pronounce Sanskrit words correctly, since they tend to drop the "a" present in the ending of all sanskrit words (inherent in the letter).....and what's funny is that it's almost impossible to convince a Hindi speaker about this change (though he/she is clueless about Sanskrit anyway, he/she insists that their pronounciation is correct!!). All leads to some good fun.

  • At 8:49 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…


    Having heard Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (my next post) I tend to agree (with conviction) with your conviction that retaining the middle 'a' wont be out of place even in the North.


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