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Society

The name game

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When Akruti becomes Yuckruti and Hardik becomes the cause of much amusement, what does one do? Adopt a Western first name like many Gujarati NRIs.

The Bard's lines about a rose by any other name smelling as sweet don't ring true for Gulab ben from Gujarat's Bardoli village who, on shifting to the US some years ago, promptly became Ms Rose Patel. Many others of her community who live abroad do the same - they have two names, one which exists on their passports and the other which is their alias. So Tarun becomes Tom, Harish is Harry and Dakshesh is, well, Dick.

Rechristened at their workplace to make the going easy, successful Indian professionals don't think twice about giving up their names for business. "I came here from Surat as Rambhai Patel in the 1960s but now even my grandchildren call me Raymond dada, " says a motel owner from Dallas. "I began as a receptionist, renting out rooms, and my knowledge of English was sparse. It was easier to adopt an American name than trying to explain my own. "

While Rambhai had his reasons, even a prestigious institution like the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, with wealthy English-speaking members, has an entire board of directors with American first names, beginning with chairman Hemant (Henry) Patel, vice-chairman Alkesh (Al) Patel and treasurer Mehul (Mike) Patel. The surname stays on, but then Patel rhymes with hotel/motel so it's easy for the Americans and thus escapes slaughter. The association's directors Pete, Sam, Dan and Kay are actually Paresh, Shailendra, Dhansukh and Kalpana. "The Western community finds it difficult to pronounce Indian names, " points out Henry Patel. Most times they tend to misspell my name as 'Hermant', absolutely murdering it! I love my name but having it spelt incorrectly in America can also bring up technical and legal problems in paperwork and emails. 'Henry' Patel makes communication so much easier. " Adds an old age home manager from Texas, "My name is Akruti, but everyone here used to call me 'Yuk root ee'. I'm happier being 'Ashley' now. "

Yogendra Vyas, a PhD in linguistics who trains students of the American Institute of Indian Studies in Gujarati phonetics, disagrees. "It's foolish snobbery on the part of Americans to think that our names are difficult to pronounce. God has given the same speech system of vocal chords, voice, tongue and lips to all human beings. America's very own linguistic scholar Noam Chomsky has pointed out that every person has equal linguistic competence. It's just a question of practice. " American students who visit Vyas in Ahmedabad begin picking up his name and other words within two to three days, after which they are made to commute in auto rickshaws and visit local bazaars to get a hands-on experience of Gujarati. By the end of the term, most are enjoying garbas and dabbling in Gujarati theatre.

In London, most Gujaratis save time by simply using their initials. "I work as an advisor at a finance firm, and time is of the highest value here. CJ works for me just fine. Indians who apply for jobs have to be careful that their names spell and sound easy, " says Chaitali Jariwala, 32.

While parents breeze through their business with nicknames, school children adapt aliases to save themselves from ostracism. "My friend's name was Hardik;you can imagine what a tough time he had. He was a centre forward in the school football team but unpopular because of his name. He adopted his nickname for a while but that was 'Lalu' and everybody then teased him as 'Hard Dick La Loo' !" says Suniel Patel, a software engineer from Chicago. His wife Joy (Jyotika) has named their son Dillon Patel. "My in-laws were happy settling for it and pronounce it as Dilen which means 'large-hearted' in Gujarati. More Indian parents are now giving their babies simpler Indian names or American ones like Jayden, Russell or Rita, which work both ways. "

Russell Peters, a Canadian of Anglo-Indian parentage and stand-up comic, says, "While cultural names sound really good in India, they don't really cross over well in foreign countries. Even something really traditional like Ramandeep turns into 'Ram in deep'. "
As Gulzar once said, 'Naam gum jayega, chehra yeh badal jayega'. The first part at least holds true for many Gujarati NRIs.

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