Naming of parts
idiosyncratic basis for Bengali nicknames continues to this
day. Some names, especially for men come from a pseudo revolutionary
vision as in Biplob (revolution) and Lenin (commonly mispronounced
as Lelin!). The Russian theme is further exploited to include
Misha, Natasha, Tanya, Lena, Gorky, even a Pushkin I know of,
but luckily no Dostoyevsky!
mother, like other Muslim Bengali women of her time, had two
names. One was the nickname or daak-naam (literally the name
by which one is called, and of which more later), and the other,
the Islamic name given formally and officially. These were mostly
verbal compounds that defined some quality, like Badr-un-Nisa
(sun among women), Hosney Ara (endowed with beauty) or Kaneez
Fatima (servant of Fatima, daughter of the prophet) and mostly
ended with the suffix meaning 'lady': Begum, Banu, Khanom or
Khatoon. A surname was not required since a daughter did not
belong to her parental family. But straddling two eras, that
of their parents who had given them these old fashioned names
and the more modern times in which my mother and her contemporaries
actually lived, many of them eventually dropped the staid endings
and added on their husbands surnames.
mother's given name was Hamida Banu, which she detested, and
her new avatar was the more acceptable Hamida Nazir. Her own
preference had been Muneeza, a name that had been short-listed
at her birth and then rejected. Alas, we are not asked that
quintessentially important question of how we shall be called
or known all our life! In a less conventional time, a spirited
woman like my mother would have changed her name, liberating
herself from the personality sometimes imposed by a name. She
would have found a ready following among the Nain-un-Nahars,
Ummey Kulsums, Khojesta Khanums and the lone Amtey-Fatima-Shamsey
Ara (real person!) of the times, ready to unyoke themselves
from the tyranny of ignominious cognomina!
The bland Hamida Bano, who was a stylish and vivacious Muneeza
at heart, came from an 'average' sized family of yore, comprising
ten siblings; she was one of six sisters. In an inspired moment,
whoever named the girls, grouped them in neat pairs, like earrings,
in terms of name-endings. Thus we have the kaan-pashas, Hamida
Banu and Ruqaiyya Banu; the jhumkas, Shams-un-Nahar and Qamr-un-Nahar;
the kaan-baalas, Sitara Begum and Mushtari Begum. Chronologically
the earrings were grouped correctly except for the middle pair,
the dangling Nahars, which consisted of the eldest sister being
coupled with the fourth sister in line.
appellations usually languished on paper and like wedding saris
were seldom used except to grace certificates, legal papers
and in wedding cards receiving which would cause many old friends
and family to exclaim, 'Oh! Is that her bhalo-naam ?' This term
which means, literally, good name seems to imply that her other
name was bad! Actually, these 'other' names or nicknames could
be nonsensical like Shanu, Panu, Tunu, Ranu, or meaningful but
whimsical indeed, like buri (old woman), paakhi (bird) or pawtol
(a vegetable) or dolna (swing) or jelly or China, even chocolate!
The logical ones, that is, those that were shortened forms of
given names like Biloo from Bilquees, or Janu from Jahanara
were few. For most, the rule of mere abbreviation never applied,
so a Sakina in school was not necessarily a Saki at home, rather
she probably sported an irrelevant calling name of Shayla or
Parool or perhaps an anglicised Rebecca (pronounced not Rebek-a
as in the original but the more evenly stressed rey-bey-ka)
or Ivy (pronounced, perhaps, eye-bhee) or Dolly, the mis-pronunciation
of which begs a story. A fashionable friend of my mother, on
her wedding night, found herself being addressed by her less
polished husband as 'dole-ee', hearing which she walked out
of his life leaving him forever dole-ful!
To get back
to my mother and her sisters, to illustrate the idiosyncratic
basis for nicknames of that time, I'll take my eldest aunt as
a case in point. This innocent lady was named after a house
whose picture in some magazine enthralled my grandmother. It
was labelled Villa Rose, so the baby was promptly named Villa!
Then came my mother's turn. She was born in 1932, the year of
the Talkies when silent films learned to talk. My grandparents
were fun loving and adored music, gramophones and films. Not
surprisingly, the new daughter was named Talky! She was followed
in quick succession by Lucky, Jolly (whose husband did not mispronounce
her name on their wedding night) June (born naturally in that
month) and Moon (presumably on a moonlit night).
my uncles, were all broadly and unimaginatively lumped under
M.Rahman (the John Smiths of Bangladesh), of which two were
Dr. M. Rahman like their distinguished father, a civil surgeon
of British India. While pater was Dr. Mansur-er-Rahman, the
fils chipped off the old block thus: Mahboob-er, Mowdood-er,
Maqsood-er and Mahfuz-er-Rahman. However, what their proper
names lacked in originality was amply made up for in their nicknames.
One of them is called Ludo (as in the board game of snakes and
ladders!) and perhaps, in continuation of this tradition, my
mother named my youngest brother Tash (as in the game of cards!)
and though Tash is better at chess, I don't think I could have
survived a brother called 'Daaba', Na Baba!
basis for Bengali nicknames continues to this day. Some names,
especially for men come from a pseudo revolutionary vision as
in Biplob (revolution) and Lenin (commonly mispronounced as
Lelin!). The Russian theme is further exploited to include Misha,
Natasha, Tanya, Lena, Gorky, even a Pushkin I know of, but luckily
no Dostoyevsky! Russian currency as name came into vogue among
the conoscenti but now also among those who don't know its meaning,
thus when I asked my maid what her son's name Rubel meant, she
said, 'It sounds nice.'
does the sound of breeze as in 'jheer-jheer' but would one torture
a human female with such a name? Apparently, if you were a misguided
parent much into alliteration and onomatopoeia, you would. And
many offspring have survived names like 'moon-moon' 'tuk-tuk'
'room-jhoom' 'tun-tun' and 'koo-hoo.' Which brings me to the
whole business of rhyming nicknames. In accordance with the
principle of Alal in the home of Dulal, a Fulu was obliged to
have a brother called Dulu, and a Babloo invariably followed
a Dabloo; Flora's sister could be none other than Dora, Mina
was twinned to Bina, Rina, Lina or Tina. If sisters' names didn't
match, people would be visibly disappointed. I had paternal
cousins named on a sort of AABA rhyming scheme of ontoo, montoo,
naantoo and shontoo.
rhymes came the complex Hopkinsian sprung rhythm of such poetic
compositions like Manoshi Maya or Batool Chaya, or the number
game as in our friend Two whose siblings One, Three and Four
have since then modified their names somewhat. The category
of gems having been looted for generations with the inevitable
Hira, Chuni, Panna, Mukta; the more everyday dairy products
have been no less milked dry to form Noni, Makhon and Chana.
In this context, I must add that a female friend of ours named
Panna, came to Italy where the word means cream, and to make
matters even richer in cholesterol, her proper name was Zubayda,
which in Arabic means butter.
a nickname could sound hindu being a word in Bengali that someone
in Indian Bengal might have as her proper name like Shuborna
or Chitra or Nondini or Kanchon or Preeti or as in my father's
name Mohon. Of course, this was supplemented by a double barrel,
high power Islamic name to counter any residual hindu-ness;
thus a Priya was Zohra Khatoon and my father was officially
Nazir-uddin Ahmad. But even as nicknames, certain conventionally
hindu names like Arundhuti or Protima or Arjun with very definite
hindu religious connotations were avoided.
overlapped the gender barrier, and Moni or Bachchu or Bonny
or Ronnie or Bulbul or Nilu or Mithu or any strictly sound based,
nonsense name like Miloo or Jhiloo or Tulu or Tutu etc. could
belong to both males and females. My own nickname falls into
this unfortunate category! I am called Titi with a soft 't'
which leads many kind folks to pronounce it as Ti-thi giving
it a respectable meaning as in date or time, when the source
of my name is total hogwash or rather chicken feed since it
is an arbitrary sound one supposedly makes with one's tongue
while gathering chicks for feeding them in some farmer's homestead
as in 'Aaye, tee-tee-tee-tee-tee……' I'm not chicken enough to
change my handle, after all, what's in a name?