Gulabo and Gulabchand: What’s in a name?

Chances are if your name is Gulabo, or Gulabchand, you have false teeth, you walk with the aid of a walking stick, you have multiple age-related health conditions and most likely you reside in a non-urban location. Probably you have exotic tattoos on your arms. And exquisite and antique jewellery on your body. Chances are also high that if you are reading these lines, you are neither Gulabo nor Gulabchand. None of your friends has these names. Quite likely you might remember someone generations away in the past in your family bearing one of these names. Family members who are either deceased or fit the senile conditions as described above.

Right? If you say yes, then please stay with me for a while

Consider this now: If your name is Riya or Ishaan, Ved or Diya then perhaps you have stumbled upon my blog by mistake. You are too young to be reading blogs, least of all blogs by a middle-aged man (me) writing about ancient names like Gulabo. You are probably 8-12 years old, if not younger.

Right, again? Yes? Then maybe you really ought to stay with me a while longer.

Riya, Ishaan, Ved, Diya et al: You probably have parents in their mid 30’s to late 40’s with names like Sanjay, Sushil, Vineeta, Reena etc. And your grandparents who are in their 60’s and 70’s have names like Rammohan, Chandraprakash, Gourishankar, Pran Nath et al.

This piece of mine is about trends in names and how the trend varies over time. This piece is restricted to only those names prevalent in the Hindi-speaking belt of North India. I do not claim to have any expertise in this matter and the article is based solely on my observations and anecdotal evidence.

I have always had a fascination for names and I have wondered about the why and how of naming. I have always suspected that there is a societal pattern to naming. My views got stronger after I read the chapter on names in that book – “Freakonomics”-  by the brilliant economist Stephen Levitt”. You will ask me what an economist was doing studying names. I suggest you read this thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating book. The writer gets into even more bizarre domains: proving school teachers to be cheats, explaining why drug pushers stay with their mothers, reasons behind the declining crime rates in New York City etc etc.

His premises in this naming business are that:

  • Names have an “expiry” date, as it were.
  • Naming is linked to socio-economic strata.
  • Names flow down socio-economic strata over time.
  • Names are cyclical in nature. So what has expired some decades ago will return at some point in time.

 I  have done some thinking regarding each of these and I must say the economist is bang-on in the context of North India at least.

Let us start with the first premise; expiry date. My father (84 years old now) is named Satyadeo. My late father-in-law was named Chandradeo. The “deo” piece is coincidental, but what is the probability that you will find someone a generation or two or three younger with the names like Satyadeo and Chandradeo. Most likely: zero! And for that matter, names like Siddhnath, Gowrishankar, Muralidhar etc. None, again? I can imagine, these are name from the past. These names are probably totally out-of-fashion by now. Just like Gulabo and Gulabchand.

Now, consider names like Sushma, Sandhya, Vandana, Rachana. Probably someone in her late 30’s or early 40’s, right? None bearing this name is, I can bet, is in the kindergarten class right now.

In the KG class you shall find names like Dhruv, Ritwik, Adhyayan etc. Names which you can never find in the “men” of the Sushma, Sandhya era. Like do you know a middle-aged Dhruv being married to an equally middle-aged Vineeta?

So each class of names has an “expiry” date. Names which last a generation or two, that’s all!

But, may I point you to the names of the kids of those who are lower down in the socio-economic hierarchy? Can’t you recollect the names from your generation being applied to the kids of the generation below you, like the maid servants, drivers, peons etc.? Probably yes. The lower socio-economic class adopts the names of the class above. Think about it.

Names come back, in some form or the other. My older son is called Ved. He is 14 years old now. He is pretty comfortable with his name, and why not; he finds this name, or variants of it like Vedanta, pretty familiar. Perhaps he does not know that his name is a variant of older generation names like Vedpratap and Vedprakash. Except that the suffix has been dropped and just the Ved piece remains!

Ved challenged me on my hypothesis on the cyclical nature of names. He was reasonably convinced that the Ved+suffix scenario was fine. But he reasoned: Someone in the old age ought to have had the name Ved. Just Ved.

I scratched my head, and then I realized. Ved Vyas, of course. The guy who wrote Mahabharata!!

PS: I wrote this piece without meaning any offence to anyone. I have no scholarly research to back my observations. If I have offended anyone, it is purely accidental. And I am sorry.

What is in a name, anyway!! Gulab ko jis kisi bhi naam sey pukaro, Gulab, Gulab hi rahega!

Why make it Rosy?


4 Responses to Gulabo and Gulabchand: What’s in a name?

  1. Gullu says:

    Another interesting name is “Pran”. A very popular name till the 50s which disappeared basically due to its association with the screen villain Pran.

  2. Lalitha says:

    Interesting. I remember having four girls in my class called Rita and we also had a couple of Shielas. This was in the late 50’s! Since I went to school in places like Lucknow and Delhi, my own name was unusual, until I came to the South to attend college, and then the Ritas disappeared, but the Shielas were there, even in the traditional South. The boys were of the Ramesh, Ganesh, Shankar variety while the more conservative families added the “an” at the end in the South.

    Our children are Arvind and Harish, while their cousins are Renu, Deepa, Sanjay, Vijay, Arati, and so on, but the next generation of grandkids are now being called Ananya, Aditya, Ankita, Annika, Aarav, Rushil and even Advik! The last three are mind-boggling to me!

    This is definitely an interesting topic.

  3. squarecutatul says:

    There is this diplomat turned governor called Ved Marwah aged 78. But when I checked up, he was named Ved Prakash Marwah. So you are right.

    And I agree with your observation on the names being cyclical in nature and different generations having different kinds of names.

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