The Geography of Names

Here is a quick quiz: What is common to Arindam, Arunava and Anindya? Or Buddhadev, Biswadeep? Or Sushmita, Sucharita, Suparna and Sudeshna? All names you say? Or, the A names are men’s and the S’, females. Some of the more enlightened ones would say these are all Indian names. Those who are even more clued in would say they are all names of Bengali men and woman! You are all right, but the last observation regarding the names being Bengali names is spot-on.

Ok, here is one more question. What is common to Vikas, Viraat and Vipul? Sure they all start with a “V”, tell me more! Of course the geography! These are names from the North India, typically from around Delhi. And nearly all those you know bearing the aforementioned names are from the North! Right? As are the below-mentioned ladies : Sushma, Sapna, Manisha.

Try this one now: Where would you find these gents from; Dharmesh, Jayesh, Hemal or Keyur. Sure, all from Gujarat. Like this ladies, Bijal, Snehal, Minal, Parul, Amisha.

This last one, a sitter. Take this set of male names: Ramakrishnan, Gopalan, Balaraman, Karthikeyan. Or these names of females: Srividya, Soundarya, Sreedevi. All South Indian, right?

Ditto for these Maharashtrian names for men: Dattatreya, Ajinkya and Avadhoot.

This may not be of much surprise to you if I tell you if all these names are Sanskrit in origin, each one of them.

Why is it that despite being perfectly Sanskrit in origin, one set of names enjoys such importance in one region while the other set dominates the other? Have you heard of an Indian with these first names? Like Anindya Pandey? Or Buddhaadev Singh? Or Karthikeyan Yadav? Like you would find Abhijit Iyer, Anindya Iyengar and Buddhadev Gowda pretty uncommon. Or Vikas Wadekar, Viraat Patil and Vipul Desai uncommon too! Or for that matter uncommon are Keyur Chatterjee, Jayesh Ghosh and Dharmesh Sengupta.

I have no answer to this! And I would request you to help me with the why’s and why not’s.

I must apologize for generalizing my observations, but what I wrote above is the rough picture, sure you could find someone who does not conform to what I have mentioned earlier. I may have even mentioned some pretty obscure names, but those would pretty much belong to the state I indicated. So Sushma Raghavan, Karthikeyan Desai, Dattatreya Chaturvedi, please excuse me.

Sure there are names deeply rooted in a regional language. Like the Tamil names like Anbazhagan, Tamilrasan, Kanimozhi or Azhagiri. The current Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Thiru M. Karunanidhi has been concerned about the influence of Sanskrit (read Aryan) nomenclature in Tamilnadu and has announced a special incentive of a gold ring to any family which gives their baby a Tamil name. Never mind Karuna Nidhi is very much a Sanskrit expression. And the name of his influential younger son Stalin is far away from Sanskrit, or even Tamil. Not to mention the names of his grand nephews, Kala Nidhi and Daya Nidhi with whom he has a blow-hot, blow-cold relation. Sure enough, Karunanidhi gave one of his sons, Azhagiri, a typical Tamil name. But the poor soul had to modify it to Alagiri when he became a cabinet minister in Delhi as no non-South Indian babu, or a non South Indian favor seeker could ever pronounce his name; he has temporarily rechristened himself Alagiri.

But there is one set of names I can perhaps figure out.

You may all have heard of this sometime Hindi film actor and now a TV stand-up comedian (he also dabbled into politics recently), Shekhar Suman. But have you had someone you knew called Shashank Shekhar, Prasanna Raghav or Piyush Ranjan. If you have not, let me tell you; there are very high chances that these may be Biharis. Not that Suman, Shekhar, Raghav or Ranjan are Bihari surnames. In fact these are not even surnames, but just stand-alone proper nouns. Shekhar Sinha, Shashank Tiwari, Prasanna Roy and Piyush Singh could be their real names. But the surnames denote the caste (Sinha= kayastha or bhumihar, Tiwari= Brahmin, Roy= Bhumihar and Singh= Rajput or Bhumihar or a million other castes). An upwardly mobile family would like to hide the caste connotation in their kids’ name and hence reverts to this device. Bihar, if you do not know, is terribly, terribly, caste-conscious….. and caste-driven.

Something else now; now on the geographical commonality of names:

Think of the following names: Santosh, Kiran, and Pradeep. Which region do they belong to? I suspect, none in particular.

I, Santosh Ojha, a Bihari, have met a Santhosh Jacob Kuruvilla from Kerala (he was a classmate and a close friend), a Santokh Kaur from Punjab (never mind if she is a female) and a Santosh Divekar from Pune.

And lo and behold I am married to a Kiran (very much a Bihari), I know a neighbour who is very much a Kannadiga, Kiran Shetty. I know of the famous Kiran Bedi, a true-blue Amritsar origin female from Punjab. I have also heard about  Kiran Singh from Rajasthan. Also a Pradip Singh from UP, Prodeep  Chatterjee from Burdwan, West Bengal (notice the “o” replacing the “a” as the concession to the Bengali style of pronouncing) and KVST Pradhip from Vizag, Andhra Pradesh (notice the “h” following the “d” in the manner of South Indian pronunciation. (My name always gets spelt as “Santhosh” in the South.)

I am confused. Totally! Which names apply where? Which types of names are pan-Indian, which are geography-specific. I have not the faintest.


PS: Names have always fascinated me. There must be deep historical, sociological and economic significance to names. As would be the difference in time and space. I have explored the former (the time factor) in an earlier post of mine.  Find it here in Gulabo and Gulabchand etc.


6 Responses to The Geography of Names

  1. really fascinating article, we generally do not think about this.

  2. Amit Das says:

    Hi Santosh, In olden days parents were influenced even by protagonist of Bollywood a gr8 extent Amitabh is responsible for popularising Amit and Vijay. Commonality do exist..but is changing very fast..especially the logic followed by Gen X in naming their wards..infact no logic..I know people look for uncommon names and dying to differentiate..searching internet is order of the day..not to forget dozens of books available in book stores on naming conventions..names like Aliya, Maharath, Glady, Phool, Mausam are gaining popularity..Amit

  3. businessbaatein says:

    Very interesting observation !

  4. alok says:

    some of it is rooted in the dominance of one deity or another in the region. like karthikeyan and murugan are prevalent in tamilnadu, balaji & venkateshwar are prevalent in andhra pradesh, durga is dominant in bengal, krishna is dominant in gujarat and ram is dominant in up/ bihar. however, that explains only part of it.

  5. manish says:

    hey santosh….yes this is very much in sync with the ironies of india s diverse languages, customs, cultures and how all of these mix and match…but one thing i noticed is that most of the examples of names from diffferent states you used are mostly of allergans Reps at all these places 🙂 what say..i can say that for sure of the gujarat ones

  6. Sushil Prasad says:

    A little more on the Geography of names.

    Shankar – North India
    Sankara – Andhra / Kannadiga,
    Sankaran – Tamil Nadu
    Sankaram – Kerala

    similarly with Vishwanath, Visveswar, Subramanium/an etc.

    Pran used to be popular North Indian name for boys about 50 years ago. With the ascedency of Pran the villian, the name has all but disappeard.

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