My maternal grandmother blessed me with my name when I was born. She named me ZENEITUONUO, meaning happy companion. It may be taken as a blessing to all who meet me to find happiness in my company or as a blessing to me to find happiness in those around me. It has a beautiful meaning but it is long and complicated for people who aren’t my tribesman. I have had my name pronounced and spelt in all possible ways and I had felt guilty for putting them through this torture. There had been times when I was embarrassed of my name and wished the elders in my family had chosen a simpler name. I am a very shy person by nature and I used to feel like my name attracted too much attention. Throughout school, college, and university, either I would be the only person whose name started with ‘Z’ or there would be maximum two more with names starting with the same alphabet. I remember feeling good when, class 11, I found that I wasn’t the last name on the attendance register. There was a girl whose name started with ‘Z’ and then ‘U’.
In my land, Nagaland, new-born babies are often given names by the grandparents based on dreams they had seen prior to the birth or after. A name also reflects the position or situation of a family or the society. Each name is therefore unique even within the community. My parent’s second born was named SEYIENGUTUO which means ‘the world will recognize you’, when my sister was born after two sons, she was named KETOULENUO meaning ‘to judge equally’. My cousin’s name is KEVIYIEKHRIEÜ, it means ‘preserving a good bloodline’ and she is the first child of the eldest son. A niece is named DIETHOLHOUBEINUO meaning ‘to persist on leading an honest life’. This beautiful tradition of grandparents and loved ones giving names to newborns is fast dying though. Parents of the present age wish to keep this privilege to themselves and mostly prefer easy and shorter names or even ‘Foreign’ names for the convenience of those people who would have to call out our children. I used to share the same thought until I was going through a nephew’s document. His name is short and very easy but it didn’t command the grandness that our names are usually tagged with. I felt sorry for him because he has been given an incomplete name by his parents.
Today, I was watching a cricket match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan and listening to the commentators calling out the names of the Sri Lankan players effortlessly and their names we all know are big and extremely tongue twisting. There are so many famous people who have powerful names that are very difficult to pronounce but we get used to their names. So, why can’t we get comfortable with our own names in our own languages, blessed upon us by our grandparents and loved ones? If somebody is having trouble pronouncing our names, then we should teach them, tell them the meaning, and make them know how proud we are of our names. Why do we have to opt for easy names and for whose sake? We would argue, “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet;” but it matters. It is not just our identity, we carry our loved one’s prayers for us in our names. Now even our parents and grandparents are cautious while giving names, they don’t have the liberty to bless our children from their hearts. There are too many standards they must keep in mind and I think most choose to keep the names to themselves because the parents of the new baby will not use it anyway. Isn’t that sad? Sad for our children.