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Name Change or Identity Change?

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When I came to US, I became the target of name-manipulation. But it was acceptable, because I did not consider anyone to pronounce my name correctly. I would shorten my name, let my teachers pronounce it in any manner they wanted, and even accepted my initials as my name. But at home, my parents still called me by my name, although it was long to my friends. I accepted my initials as my “common name” as others Anglicized their names. My other immigrant friends also accepted this norm because some wanted to “fit-in”, some didn’t like their name, and others because it was easier.

This incident draws parallel to the name change policies that is oft-criticized by the media in India. Here there are two differences: the names are names of cities and states, and the name is not a foreign immigrant.

Although this has become a hot-button topic of political conversation, this has existed since the independence. At the dawn of independence, the name changes included changes to state names such as Madras State to Tamil Nadu and Madhya Bharat to Madhya Pradesh. This is in the early 60s to 70s, long before the idea of Yogi Adityanath was conceived by even his parents. Slight changes took place before he or even the BJP came to power when Uttaranchal became Uttarakhand, Bombay became Mumbai and my beloved city, Calcutta became Kolkata.

Why were these names changed? Or a more apt question would be: why were these names changed to a name that they needed to be changed back again?

The answer lies in the fact that these names were dealing with the confluence of cultures and languages. It was the opposite of the situation I presented above where the immigrants forced their form of name into the majority, without it being the other way. For example, if we look at Thiruvanantapuram (previously called Trivandrum). Thiruvanantapuram comes from the Malayalam word thiru-ananta-puram or “The City of Lord Ananta”. Now the origin of the name Trivandrum, although not accessible online, can be easily broken down to tri-van-drum. It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to figure out that this name was Anglicized, but to Anglicize a name in a country where 22 Constitutionally recognized languages are spoken is indeed comical. Comparatively, the British didn’t impose their names while they were in the US, doing their colonization business. Massachusetts, a name that confuses many with its many double letters, still stands to this day, and it is from a Wôpanâak word, spoken by a minority in the state. So while we import American ideologies in our daily lives, maybe we should also import their bravery to keep maintain their culture.

The second reason for the name changes is the history they portray. Again, for a comparison, America continues to inherit their Native American origins with their place names. The Dakotas still show that they are allies, in terms of their political and social ideologies, reflecting their state names perfectly. Changing of names from Bombay (derived from Galician-Portuguese “good little bay”) to Mumbai reflects the culture of the people. Their admiration for their city goddess Mumbadevi reflects the citizen’s desire to connect to their past. Yes, they do have a “good little bay” but that is all throughout the many locations in the Eastern and Western Ghats, as well as eastern Mizoram.

Should we start to name places around those Bombay to reflect that they are all “good little bays?”And for those who continue to admire the American standards, remember many parts of Jefferson Davis (the president of a separatist country called Confederate States of America) Memorial Highway has been renamed. If we can reflect the westerners for their “liberal” views, maybe we should be liberal in changing the names from the oppressive Mughal era’s oppressive regime to reflect the names encultured for the people of the region?

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