What’s In A Name?

To jog your memory, ” What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet! ” wrote William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, in his Romeo and Juliet. Parents while naming their children seldom think of the effect the name may have on him/her as they grow up. Some hate their names so much they wish they had been called by some other name!  A young lady called Savithri once told me how at first she  found it difficult to be part of the crowd in her college hostel. Everyone assumed she would sneak to the authorities about their wayward ways because of her traditional name! 

There are exceptions to this rule, however. One that comes to mind is this story for which you need to listen to the song yourself. In the 70’s and beyond, there was a popular country song, by Johnny Cash called “A Boy Named Sue” (1969) . The lyrics explain why the father did what he did with telling effect!

In a lighter vein, the next story dates back to the years before “political correctness” became fashionable. In the late 80s, one of our engineers Thomas Baby from Kerala went on assignment to the United States. When he reached the office and said his name was Thomas Baby, the girl at the desk gave him a hard stare. When he spoke to her on the phone and said, ” This is Thomas Baby” he heard her draw in her breath sharply. That afternoon, she caught up with him in the cafeteria. She said, ” You are new here. I am okay with this, Thomas, but not every lady would appreciate being called ” baby”!”

A month later in his first review meeting, his boss asked Thomas Baby whether he felt he could improve in some areas. Baby told him, ” I am on top of the technical aspects of my job, Mr H_____ but I some times feel a little hesitant in talking to colleagues at work.’ ” I would hardly say that,” said Mr H. ” You may think it is part of American culture but I am told you are addressing all the women, irrespective of age or position as, “baby”. The young man was shocked but realizing what was happening, recovered fast and said, ” On the contrary, they should be calling me Baby. It happens to be my name!” . They had a good laugh about this, but I am told that later he initiated steps to formally change his name!

Closer to the day, in 2007 in a BPO organisation for which I did some consulting, a British executive called Malcolm Swift visited the Bangalore office.  The staff, who prided themselves on being on an informal first name basis, were told his name was Malcolm. In the first meeting, with team leaders he said, ” I am Swift. Tell me about yourselves. ” The first team leader gushed, ” I love working with people who work fast. My team’s average time to resolve issues is the best in this location”. Another said, ” I am happy to say that our team is swift too! We are well-trained and perform excellently on the job.!”” Ok, I get it,” said Mr Swift, ” I was telling you my name is Swift. Malcolm Swift!”

A loud’ Ahhhhhhh” broke out in the crowd! Who would have thought his name was Swift? ” Oh, Swift, as in Maruti Swift?” asked a young lady from the back, referring to a popular car of that time. For the rest of his stay, his colleagues called him Malcolm but the troops called him, ” Maruti” which never ceased to mystify him! 

So as the old saying goes, ” What’s in a name?” but if you want to know what’s in a name, you should meet someone who has been through a lot- only because of his/her name!