What’s in a Name?

Question Mark

My name is Yoges (pronounced as Yo-gesh). If it’s pronounced as ‘Yogesh’ why is it written as ‘Yoges’? Well, that’s a long story. I am 35 year old guy from Chennai, India. The story of my name starts with my father’s name, Raja Gopal. When I was born on 6th April 1980, my parents decided to give me a name similar to my father’s name and named me as ‘Ram Gopal.’ Instead of making this as my official name, they decided to consult our family’s astrologer. And the astrologer introduced the first twist in the screenplay of my life.

The astrologer after carefully considering the planetary alignment at the time of my birth as well as my birth star bowled a ‘Googly’ and announced that my name should start either with ‘Yo’ or ‘Ya.’ Not to be outdone by the astrologer’s advice my parents named me as ‘Yogesh Ram Gopal.’ My name would have stayed this way had it not been for an idea that was planted in my dad’s mind several years ago. It’s called ‘Numerology.’ I am not sure who introduced my dad to the concept of Numerology; may be it is an elder one from the family or a friend or maybe even a newspaper article. But the fact is my dad very firmly believes in Numerology. And so my parents were checking if my would-be name (Yogesh Ram Gopal) would be ‘Numerology’ compliant as well. Unfortunately, ‘Yogesh Ram Gopal’ along with the initials (V R) did not lead to the favorable number (as per Numerology). Neither did ‘Yogesh Ram’ nor ‘Yogesh.’ So finally they settled for the odd spelling for my name as ‘Yoges’ though everyone in the family always pronounced it as ‘Yogesh.’

There is a little bit of history in the choice of initials that were chosen for me and my sisters. Unlike the majority in India, in in my state Tamil Nadu, people mostly do not have Surnames. The norm is using abbreviation of one’s native place plus father’s name or abbreviation of grand father’s name plus father’s name or just father’s name as initials. Example: In the late CM of Tamil Nadu C.N. Annadurai’s name, ‘C’ stands for his native place Conjeevaram and ‘N’ stands for his father’s name Natarajan.

So my name should have been either R Yoges (Rajagopal Yoges) or P R Yoges (Padapai Rajagopal Yoges), Padapai being my ancestral village. However fate intervened in the form of a conversation that my dad had with one his friends who worked as a nurse at CSI Kalyani Hospital, Chennai around the time my eldest sister was born. It seems that the nurse felt that it’s unfair that while the mother of the baby incurs a lot of pain in bringing the baby to this world, only the name of the father is given as initials. My dad recalled a few years back that at that moment he decided that he will include my mother’s name along with his name as initials for his children. So I and my sister’s got the initials as V R (Vijayalakshmi Rajagopal).

Well, I wouldn’t be thinking about writing about my name had it not put me into some interesting situations at school, college and workplace. First of all, most of my classmates and teachers in school were intrigued about the unusual spelling for my name. One of the teachers who came as substitute for my math teacher, on looking at my name on my notebook even commented, “Idiot, you don’t even know how to spell your name?” My class representative came to my rescue and told her that it’s a numerology based name (I have struck to that explanation ever since). Most of classmates would either call me as ‘Yo-ges’ or ‘Yogx’. Things got slightly better during graduation and post-graduation when my class mates called me as Yogi (meaning: a person who has spent a lot of their life doing yoga and studying the philosophy of yoga) or Yogi Bear (!!!).

But I always keep running into trouble while filling my name in applications for institutions outside Tamil Nadu. Applications for most institutions (outside Tamil Nadu) don’t account for Patronymic names and hence keep asking for ‘Surname’. And I have to fill my parents name in the place given for surname. This always keeps leading to interesting permutations for my name depending upon how the institutions’ computer systems are configured.

Post MBA when I went to work with an MNC, I started facing another interesting problem. The company had policy of using ‘surname, first name’ as the naming convention in Outlook profiles. They did not allow photos to be uploaded to avoid any discrimination in staffing. The IT people who created my outlook account configured my name as “Rajagopal, Yoges Vijayalakshmi.” In one particular year I signed up to be training coordinator for my department’s trainings. We had the practice of allowing a few people from other departments to attend our department’s training. So our training announcements would be sent to other departments with my name as the training coordinator. To my horror, in one of the months about half a dozen mails (from people from other departments) landed in my inbox with more or less the following message: “Hello Miss Vijayalakshmi, We would like to attend the above said training.” Miss Vijayalaksmi!!! The issue is that they assumed my oddly spelt name ‘Yoges’ as family name. There was no photo to see that it’s actually a guy. On seeing a feminine name Vijayalakshmi, they addressed it as ‘Miss Vijayalaksmi.’

I have always thought that my parents could have given me a Tamil name or the name of a famous historical personality from Tamil Nadu instead of a Sanskrit based name ‘Yogesh.’ This feeling started taking roots in a Tamil class during my primary school days when our Tamil teacher pinpointed students with pure Tamil names. In that class I learned that my name was a Sanskrit based name. I thought that it was wrong on my parents’ part to have given me a Sanskrit based name and decided that when I grow up I will choose a name that has some significance in Tamil literature or Tamil history. The issues that I had to face due to the odd spelling for my name only made this feeling stronger with each passing day. In the heydays of Orkut, for a couple of years I used the original name of the greatest of Tamil kings, ‘Arul Mozhi Varman’ as my profile name. However, slowly I was losing the inclination to change my name. Somehow I was starting to believe that ‘It’s the divine right of parents to name their child and the child has no right to change his/her name.’ What if the child does not like his/her name? He or She has to earn a name or title from the society through some meaningful contribution to the society.

For a number of years I never thought about what is the actual meaning of my name. I was forced to think about it during the third year of my graduation. I had applied for the Engineering Stream of Indian Air Force through University Entry Scheme. I had cleared the written test and had to go to Mysore for in-person interviews and tasks. We were divided into groups based on the increasing order of our age. My batch did not have any tasks in the first day. Post dinner when we were discussing with guys who had tasks that day, a lot of guys said that they were asked for the ‘meaning of their name’. That night I thought about what is the meaning of my name; however I could not think of a good answer. When I was posed that question the following day, I could not give a convincing reply. However the officer who asked me this question, told me that my name ‘Yogesh’ might have its origins in the root word for ‘Yoga.’ When I came back from Mysore, I started looking for the meaning of name on the internet. I figured out that my name could mean God of Yoga or Destiny’s God.

I once came across an email forward: ‘by the time you realize whatever your dad said makes sense, your son would be thinking that whatever you say doesn’t make sense.’ I had to come to terms with this reality when I had a daughter in 2012 and it was time to give her a name. I preferred giving my daughter a pure Tamil name but my wife wanted a name that was stylish. A search for names on the internet and books proved futile. However a colleague of mine suggested the name ‘Venpa’ (a form of Tamil Poetry) which matched our criteria. However as per my daughter’s birth star her name has to start with ‘Tha’, ‘Dha’ or ‘Sa.’ My father also handed me a book on Numerology to figure out a name that leads to a favorable number! Though I do not believe that name alone will ensure in success or well-being in life, I did not want to deny the doses of good luck (offered by an astrology and numerology based name) to my daughter. So reluctantly, I decided to figure out a name that would be favorable as per astrology as well as numerology.

But figuring out such a name proved more difficult than I had imagined. First, the number of names were limited (How many Hindu female names can you get starting with the three alphabets T, D or S?). Second, a lot of names that I liked, my wife did not like and vice-versa. Finally we were left with only a handful of names to choose from. Now came the interesting part of making the names Numerology compliant!!! I exhausted half a note book in trying to figure out a favorable combination. I spent quite a few hours on this exercise in frustration. I would add an additional ‘a’ or ‘h’ or ‘e’ to a name, but still it would not lead to a lucky number. Some names would get morphed into a completely unrecognizable form due to all the alphabet additions that I made.

We had decided to name our daughter on November 9, 2012. The ceremony was supposed to start at 9 AM. It was late in the evening on November 8 and I still had not figured out a name. I was frantically trying to arrive at a name while my wife was attending to our daughter. My wife had worried look on her face. Hours were just ticking by but a name that meets all our criteria was proving to be elusive. Around 3 AM on November 9 I had two names lined up but couldn’t choose one over the other. I went to my wife, showed her two fingers and told her that each one stood for a name and she had to choose one. My wife chose ‘Thanvii’. The original word behind this name is ‘Tanvi’ (meaning: soft and tender). I had introduced additional H and I to make this name Numerology compliant. At this juncture I am reminded of a joke made by one of my ex-colleagues, ‘In Tamil Nadu there is a “H” free after every “T” and every “D”.’ Like our parents we also decided to use my name and my wife’s name as initials to my daughter.

Somehow after going through this whole name finding mission, I see my name as well the process my parents used to arrive at my name in a more favorable light. As I was going through the process of choosing a name for my daughter, deep inside I wanted the ‘divine power’/ ‘luck’ that I had invoked through an Astrology and Numerology compliant name to be a guiding force for my daughter long after I have left this earth. As I recollect now, the odd spelling for my name had given me a benefit that I have failed to recognize over the years. The odd spelling for my name has severed as a good ice-breaker topic for me over the years. I could always add a couple of sentences to my introduction instead of just stating my name. In my workplaces (when there are other people with the same name Yogesh), the odd spelling for my name has ensured that my name is easily findable in the address book. I have told new colleagues time and again to just look for the ‘Yogesh’ without the ‘h’ in the name!

I have come across the question, ‘What’s in a name?’ so many times in books, discussion, articles etc. When we look superficially a name is insignificant and only the life of the person bearing the name carries a meaning. But if we look at a much deeper level, even if the life of the person bearing the name is meaningless, the name is still significant in a number of ways. The name could be mish-mash of various ancient bodies of knowledge. The name could be the end-result of various belief systems of a family that has been passed down across generations over a millennia. The name could be the remnant of a struggle to ensure in a new social order in a by-gone era. The name could be the result of just a spark of an idea that was lit in the minds of the parents by someone whom the child is never going to meet in his or her life. Above all the name could be a manifestation of desire or a longing within the heart of every parent for his or her child to have the best possible life known to mankind.

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