For as long as I can remember, the only person I call by a pet name is my brother. Everyone else, however close they may be to my heart — and I’ve been blessed with several good people in my life — I call them by their given name. My best friend from school is still to get used to it, I think. And I’ve known her 22 years.
I like to think that a name is more than just a tag to identify a certain body. A name, as far as I am concerned, is deeply linked with who we are and how we identify ourselves. A lot like an email id actually. I notice invariably that teenagers and those who think they’re still teenagers stick to pet names and email ids that have personality projections in them. I can take the pet name but the email addresses make me want to never write to them, even though I love them.
For example, my 15 year-old cousin calls herself Joanna Janet in places such as Facebook and email. Or some really odd thing like that. It fits her personality perfectly because she’s growing up on High School Musical and Hannah Montana, so her exposure is very obviously Western. I’d have given her an award if she had nicknamed herself Subbulakshmi or Kartiyayani. I totally get her because she is 15.
But I recently ran into a few email addresses that made me realise that I spend far too much time thinking about things that I have no business thinking about. Mosquitoes, world peace and whether global warming is just someone’s idea of a joke, for example. I should be thinking about not spending my money so fast that my kids will grow up believing education is for duds and Pink Floyd rocks. I should be thinking about more alternatives for five minutes of peace than the empty interiors of a parked car. (I swear I did that today. My family trooped out and went home, I just lay in the back seat savouring the closed space, the quiet and the time to actually hear myself think.) I should basically be thinking about more useful things than why a grown person has an email id that says email@example.com.
Yes, yes, call me judgemental but I think after you’ve crossed 23, you should just have an email id that states your name and get on with life. I realise you might want to or have to throw in an underscore or a dot somewhere and I am mildly tolerant on that front. But I just cannot forgive a 34 year old whose email id is firstname.lastname@example.org.
But wow, how I’ve digressed.
Recently, a friend brought it up when I was referring to someone, that I could use that someone’s pet name. I know I could but an anglicised little name doesn’t have half the charm of a beautiful full name, in this case a Sanskrit one. And all the meaning that is held in the womb of that name is lost when I shorten it. I’d much rather be uncool than called a Pratyusha a Prat or a Ragini a Rags.
And as for me, for as long as I can remember, friends and family have called me pet names. One in particular. Anglicised, shorter and somewhat bimboesque but that’s what I am for most my college and school mates, and definitely all of my family. Except my husband. Who has a totally different endearment for me. Something that I hold dear to my heart but something that also makes me laugh because it points to a couple things.
1) The age gap between him and me.
2) The very Malayalee in us.
Of course, when I am in the dog house I get called my full name (ouch) or when I am being introduced to someone. It’s the strangest feeling ever. Sometimes when we are out together and he’s opening doors for, showing me off and generally being the charmer he is, he tends to call me my name and I don’t know then, whether to kiss him or laugh at the awkwardness of it. Mostly because I insist I get called my beautiful, thoughtout, meaningful Sanskrit name but then feel suddenly very unloved when I get called it in full.
It leads me to think that maybe it is habit that we respond to and not our name. Inflections, tone, length of name is what we respond to. For example, a simple enough name is so different when spoken during roll call in school, at an introduction or in bed. The word is the same but the emotions they arouse in us — from an indifferent “Present” to a thrill running up your spine.
So when Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name”, I honestly think he was smoking some rotten stuff and had totally lost the plot. My other theory is that he called his wife by his girlfriend’s name and she gave him pure hell.