Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Who the Heck is Alistaire?... How Many Names Do You Have?

Many years ago I discovered a secret about my husband(then friend)Sarat. He had more than one name. Now, I know it is not unusual for us to be given nicknames by our family and friends here in the US, and usually it is a goofy name like miss kiney, googleye, goosie,dink,scube, etc(yes some of those are mine but some are also my cousin's). You get the idea. In India it is more formal than that. Each person has a home name and also a proper name for work and school. Sarat's home name is Raju. When I first heard that I was like, Who is Raju? He then explained to me about the 2 name thing.
I then started to hear him say upon answering the phone, "This is Alistaire." Alistaire, who the heck is Alistaire? He told me he has had that very British name since he was a kid. He never could remember how he got that name and all his high school friends and those in Kolkata still to this day call him that.
It sort of reminds me of my mom's sister, my aunt Polly. We have always called her that but I was shocked many years ago to learn that that was not her real name. Her real name is Florence. My grandmother's father wanted her to be called Polly, so that is what she has always been called. My mom said she never knew that her sister's real name was Florence until she got married. So all the people where they live call her Florence and all her family and hometown friends call her Polly and my uncle adjusts accordingly. I actually worked four years in my aunt's hometown and told a coworker that knew her that we call her Polly, so after that she called her PollyFlorence. "How is PollyFlorence?" "Have you seen PollyFlorence lately?" I also adjust, like my uncle does, depending on who I am talking to about Sarat. Sometimes I call him Sarat, sometimes Raju,sometimes I'm lazy and just call him Sarat all the time no matter who I am talking to about him.
One day One of Sarat's fiends asked him to join Facebook. He made the mistake of signing up as Alistaire Das. Well those friends he made later in life saw that and asked who the heck is Alistaire Das? Alistaire Das, when did you become Alistaire Das? I have only recently learned where this name came from. When he was a very small child, his cousin lived in England and come back to Kolkata to visit and would talk about British friends of his. Sarat cried saying that he wanted friends with British names so his uncle started calling him Alistaire and has been going by that ever since.
Not only do they have two or more names, elders are called by their relationship to you in the family. It can get confusing because your husband's older brother is Dada, your husband's father's youngest brother is Chotto Kaku. Our niece and nephew call us Kaku and Kakima or Kaki. That means father's brother and father's brother's wife. Your husband's brother's wife is called Bodi. It is totally different if you are talking about his mom's family. MashiMoni is your husband's mom's youngest sister, etc... there is even a name for your MIL's older brother and his wife. It is by role in the family. Very different than what I have been used to. Amazingly enough though, I was pretty much able to keep it straight when I met all of them.
I like being called kakima. When My niece, my brother's daughter, was two years old, she couldn't say my name well so she called me HEEhee. I loved it because it was unique. My mom's sister Barbara wanted my cousin's little boy to call her Granna B but you know what he came up with instead? Only the cutest, most unique, splendid name I have ever heard in my life for a granny. He calls her "Gikey"
No matter what culture you are from, You are special to somebody and a name can define that, no matter how many you have.


  1. The nickname thing happens in our family too. Aditya's the youngest by far in his family, so his nickname means "little one" in Bengali. The best was when he was working for the same startup as his brother, and he'd get called the nickname in office meetings! Was not happy. ;-)

  2. I loved this story as much as I related to it. Thinking of my many names gives me a warm feeling of belonging. One of my favorites....ShelleyBird.

  3. Do you know that a family name (Raju in the case of your husband) shouldn't be pronounced in public? i don't know why but i know it's not good that everybody knows it. so better not to mention it in the blog.

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