What’s In A Name- Part II

In my last post, I had written about a few amusing incidents that came to my mind involving names of people. Here, are a few more!

In some organisations, people are called, not by their names but by their initials! In one such organization, in those days, addressing people as AHP, DAP, PSP, DKR etc was the norm. For many years, people knew me as BPR. They  knew my surname was Rao but I am sure most didn’t have a clue what P stood for in my name, leave alone the B. We once interviewed a candidate called B.R. Acharya. He wasn’t selected, which perhaps was a good thing for him as you know what he would have been called had he joined!!

My Dad’s name was abbreviated to B A Rao when he joined Burmah Shell in the old days.    His friends called him “Bar” which was quite appropriate considering he was fond of a drink. This reminds me of his saying often that amongst his friends were a Daruwala, a Batliwala and – you may not believe this- a Sodabottleopenerwala!! These gentlemen, as you would have guessed, were from the Parsi community. It was common, amongst the Parsis, to have names that reflected the business or profession they traditionally were in.

Sometimes, even abbreviated names are further abbreviated. A case in point was a Tata Steel executive who was a guest faculty at XLRI, Jamshedpur when we were students there. His name was AVLRN Murthy, so naturally he was called, “A to Z Murthy”. Later I came to know that even this paled in front of another such name : AVSRKN Murty.

I have noticed that people spell “Rao” in various ways. In previous generations, relatives in the prestigious Indian Civil Service (ICS) chose “Rau.” An opening batsmen for England with Indian origins during my childhood was Raman Subba Row. This, I felt was misleading as “Row” could be pronounced as in ” row” a boat. It could also be -as in an argument ended in a ” row.”!

While abroad, I have found the rhyming method generally works well. People are prone to pronounce Prem to rhyme with “gem” . I have learnt to say, “Prem rhymes with “game” which makes it more easily understandable. Likewise , rhyming Rao with ” Wow!” also does the trick!! So ” Prem Rao” is like ” Game Wow” !!

My name almost made me miss an important flight while traveling in the US. At Chicago airport while waiting for a connecting flight, the lady called out, “Mr Ray-o” several times. I ignored the announcement because I never imagined she was calling me! It was only when she said, ” This is the last call for Mr Prem Ray-o and Mrs Sho-ban-a Ray-o” that I told my wife, ” That’s us! Let’s go!!”. We ran to her boarding pass in hand. The name was new to me but I was told that Rayo was a common enough Spanish name! 

So as you can see, when Shakespeare asked , ” What’s in a name?” there really is so much  behind a name.

 

 

 

 

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!