What’s in a Name

My name is Anjana Sen.

Some of my friends here in Glasgow do call me Anjana.

Then there are some who call me Unjaaana, Aenjena, Anjaanee, Angela, Anya, and my favourite, Anyaana.

It makes no difference, because, after all, what’s in a name?

I grew up in India, a country whose diversity is second only to her population. There are 22 official languages in the constitution, but as per the latest census, more than 19,500 mother tongues are spoken.

And then, there are the different dialects and pronunciations.

In Bengali, the language of my own community, I am called Aunjona.

When I did my under graduation in Madras, now Chennai, I was Yanchhanna.

In the north of the country, I became Unjna, or worse, Anju.

It never mattered, because, after all, what’s in a name?

In Sanskrit, Anjana means the ‘gracious gift of god’, and was the name of Hanuman’s mother. Hanuman, the monkey god, who I have thus never been able to take quite seriously, with maternal instincts coming to the fore whenever we were near a Hanuman temple or a statue. My sister and I would collapse into fits of giggles, because I always whispered, ‘Hello Beta’ (hello son) even as my mother darted furious glares in our direction.

I wasn’t always Anjana. Born first to the first-born son of a patriarchal gentleman of zamindari descent, who was also the Chief Engineer of the state of Orissa, much contemplation, discussions, and prayers had preceded my naming ceremony. And I was christened (well, Hindued) Moushumi. In Sanskrit it means Time, and I have no idea why the elders chose it, maybe to ensure I had my Monday submissions written on time, but I stray.

When I started school around the age of three, I was bullied by other little children who called me Musambi, which means an orange, and I went from being a sunny little girl to a sad and surly child who refused to go to school. Apparently, my parents were quite troubled by the whole situation, till the local army doctor and a friend of my father’s took him aside and said,

‘TK, just change her name.’

And my father, (then a Major in the Indian Army) in his first rebellious act against his own, did just that. I cannot thank that officer enough, for who wants to be Time when you can be the mother of God.

There had been a lot of discussion again, in the small cantonment of Mhow, and Anjana was finally decided upon because it went well with Anupama, my sister who was a baby at the time. And she was named Anupama because a friend of mine had a baby brother called Anupam.

Honestly, our parents were just lazy, when you think of the bank of beautiful Bengali names they could have chosen from. But then, they saved you the angst of having to master names like Suchandrajita or such like.

As I grew older, I became Silver to my friends, thanks to my initials, AG for Anjana Gupta. I still have a smattering of these friends and must remember to reply to ‘Yo Silver’ every now and then. Alas, marrying my beloved husband meant I am now AS, Arsenic!

The confusion with my name doesn’t end there. All Bengalis have a daak naam, or a pet name. Unlike the humble middle name here in the UK, our daak naam plays a glamorous role. It is used only by the core group of family and friends. For everyone else you have your school or your ‘good’ name. My own daak naam is Jhuma, which means good luck, because, according to family legends I brought my father back from the dead. He returned home after the post-war ceasefire with Pakistan in 1965 almost exactly the day I was born, but that’s a separate story. I’m thankful for the name though, because usual Bengali daak naams are ridiculous. My sister, a stunning and successful woman in her early fifties still answers to PomPom by elderly aunts. I have a cousin called Poopoo and another called Babun. Poor things.

Jhuma emerged from the inner circle because that’s what my husband calls me, ergo most of our friends now call me Jhuma. It’s interesting when Anjana’s friends and Jhuma’s friends get together, the confusion when they realise, they are talking about the same person. Amuses me, but then, what’s in a name?

My poor husband never gets to be called by his own magnificent name, Sarajit, which means ‘he who has victory over the truth’. He has always been Sen (or Zen sometimes). Maybe that’s a good thing after being called SirJeet, Sarabjeet or even SaraGit. I once referred to him as Sen, in the presence of my late father-in-law, who was not particularly amused. I should have said, ‘Baba, what’s in a name?’

As a PS I’d like to add simply, that the sweetest name I have been called has been and will remain, Mummy.

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