Friday, December 21, 2007

What's in a name?

One of my favorite questions to ask people who are prone to 'intelligent' discourses is the meaning of his/her name. I get awkward pauses and sheepish grins more often than not while I have my two seconds of suppressed glee. Anyway, it's only a matter of time before I get the question directed at me, so I set about discovering the meaning of "Balaji". It didn't seem like a difficult task, given that it is the most common name in South India (at least according to me).

All the senior 'Sanskrit people' (Sastrigal's who unwittingly make eye-contact with me) I asked started enthusiastically - "'Bala' means 'young'" (I had figured out as much from my incredibly inadequate Sanskrit education in school). And then, the awkward pause again. The conclusion they finally arrived at was that "Ji" is the usual suffix meant to signify respect (similar to 'Mr.'). 'Mr. Young'? Really? I mean, 'the Sun who shall smite his enemies with a thousand rays' is a bit much, but, 'He who shall be interesting to a damsel' is a reasonable expectation, don't you think? And imagine explaining the name without any hair or teeth. Sigh. If I get a chance to talk to God, I'd be like, "Dude. You live for a bajillion gajillion years. We get it. Do you have to rub it in?"

Then again, there's the opposite of the mundane. Names that make your jaw drop. Or lock up. I can't help but feel sorry for the guy named Yadnya Valkya (not kidding). Google, trusty as always, turned up four results, even suggesting a spelling correction. It's the name of an authority on Hindu adoption law, according to this book from 1868. The poor guy must have not been able to say his name until he was in fifth grade or something. "Hey guys, here's Mr.I-can't- say-my-name. Let's go watch him drool" would be a good summing up of his early years at school. And God help that guy if he comes to North America.

What could be worse than an unpronounceable name? A name which everyone can pronounce? And then some - Moon unit Zappa, her sister, Diva Muffin (oh, the horror!) and Pilot Inspektor would be willing to comment, I think.

Given the existence of such, er..., imagination in this world, I have been more or less happy about my name. When introducing myself to people here in the U.S., I usually go with 'Bala' (the shorter it is, the better. You will be repeating it at least twice, so names longer than two syllables are strongly discouraged). Now, in all my years in India, I've been used to people not even waiting for me to finish. They usually know the name by the time I say 'Ba-'. I didn't expect any such recognition here in the U.S., so, I was pretty surprised when the response I got was "Really? That's your name? ...". These kinds of pauses are almost always bad, so I asked what it meant, with some hesitation. All I got was a mysterious "Never mind. We use it sometimes".

So Google it was, again. The first one I got was from the Cassell's Dictionary of Slang -

bala n. (early - mid 19C)Coarse or senseless talk (Cornish bal, loud talking)

bala n. a balaclava(full beard)

Mr.Young isn't great, but I felt it still had the edge over SailorMouth or Shaggy. So, I continued looking, hoping the name had a coolness factor in some obscure language. I turned to Urban Dictionary, the encyclopedia of English slang. Sure enough, there was a page on 'bala'. The first thing that caught my eye was the 'Related' section. Now, Urban Dictionary is the place where you look for obscure references from sitcoms and choicest insults to hurl at the friendly neighborhood internet troll. It was the last place where I expected to find my full name -


1. (n.) Thug Of Thugs; OG of OG's. Born in 1990 on the streets of India, he quickly came to america and quickly gained respect form his wise decisions, intellect, and bravery. Later he changed his name to, BallaG. Even though it is spelled differently it is still pronounced the same.

2. (v.);BallaG; to kill or, more street, to cap an ass.

3. (adj.)A person who is smart and makes quick decisions. One who is brave and fears nothing also one who is very athletic.

I come all the way to Urban Dictionary to find that the page is about a guy who is from my country. Anyway, I don't wear jeans around my knees or listen to hip-hop music, so BallaG is also pretty much out.

And this one is pretty much self-explanatory.

Bala: Means "to do something half-assed" in Taiwanese, and is a homophone of the word for "guava".

So, all that was left was the page on 'Bala'. I wasn't too optimistic after MegaBeard and Thug of Thugs -

1. bala

It's spanish for bullet

Nice. We're getting somewhere at last. Further random clicking led to this at Wordreference ( a whole forum for word nerds - where do I sign up?!) -

here are some slang possibilities in (Mexican) Spanish for "you are a pistol"

eres una pistola (literally)
eres un tiro
eres una bala

(meaning that he is cool/smart/too clever ,etc)

Ahh. Oasis. Desert. Vacation. Student. Heat. Minneapolis. Things like that. So meet Mr. Young Bullet/Mr. Cool/ Mr. Clever Young. I'll stop now. So people! Google yourself. It's OK. If you find anything interesting, leave a comment here.

A message to all the people lucky enough to welcome a new life/decide the course of someone's life - Please think of the children! Control the urges to create your longest lasting pun. Really. You cannot call your kid Wind O'Pane, Tea Baggins or Long John. It's seriously not bala.


Filarial said...

shortening balaji to bala is too much man.. at least most amrus that i have come across always try hard to pronounce my name which is more complicated than yours and get it right the second time or atleast by the third.. I have never had the urge to introduce myself as prash.. but have a number of times had to stop myself from saying: " hi I am the "P"

sarvamitran said...

guess P's bad both in India and here. When I say balaji most americans hear it as baladi - dunno why.And even if they do manage to spell correctly it's always blaaji or something similar. So I've decided that a correct half-name is better than a wrong full-name :D

arun said...

i aint naming my child if urban dictionary is still arnd that time! [:d]

sarvamitran said...

:D good luck with that

Anonymous said...

ha, atleast they can pronounce your name (or the first two syllables). When I say 'Sri' all I get is a blank stare, until I say, 'Sri as in Sri Lanka'. And then they proceed to maul it.

In retrospect, I should have gone with 'Steve Vatz' :)

sarvamitran said...

that sounds like a gangsta version of Steve Vai

Nikhil K said...

Nice post. You write well. Where are the updates?

Ghumakkadd said...

There are some names which become cuter when you shorten them.
Like deepika to deepa
Anuj to anu.

It was fun reading your post.

Great Post. Loved your writing.
Hope you return back and start writing.


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