Thursday, February 11, 2010

what's in a name?

Just ran across this on  a blog i follow

“Two points about people making weak jokes about my name: 1) This happens all the time; 2) everybody always seems to think they’re the first to comment on it. It’s amazing.”

All I can say is BOY! DO I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN!!

Lived with this syndrome all my life! My mother, a poet and a great fan of Urdu, named me Jia, saddling me with a problem for life!

Every third Hindi film song has my name in it. What can I do? The word means heart, and practically every Hindi movie song is about love, more’s the pity. So, all my life I have had people asking me my name, and when I tell them, breaking into one of the millions of songs with my name in it. It’s amazing! It’s like a well programmed reflex! The minute they hear my name, 90% of Indians will go into “jiaoh jia kucch boldo”, “jia bekaraar hai”, “tere bina jia jaye na”, “ jia jale jaan jale” or some such.

It always amazes me that they REALLY think they are being funny! They really REALLY believe they are doing something cool and unprecedented! Don’t these twerps realize that I have had people doing this, in the exact same belief of their own coolness, for EVERY SINGLE day, for over thirty four years?! And let me tell you buddy, although it might conceivably have been funny once (it wasn’t) it sure ain’t funny anymore! It would be downright irritating actually, if I was not busy taking pity on these people for their complete lack of sensibility and sensitivity.

Another favourite joke about my name is more region specific. Bengalis, especially those living in Bengal or Bangladesh, will instantly ask me one of two things… “are you male” and “jia ul hok na jia ul rohoman”. The first few times this happened, I was flabbergasted, I had no idea what, and why, they were saying. And then I realized that local language influence was interfering with communication here. The softer ‘z’ sound is absent in bangla (although not in regional dialects like sylheti where people routinely say zawa, zaite, instead of jawa and jaite.) the less aspirated ‘j’ sound – as in ‘jug’ is the one that exists. Hence the word Zia is usually pronounced Jia instead, and hence all the confusion.

What they don’t know, of course, is that Jia and Zia are two TOTALLY different words! Jia, heart, should not be confused with Zia, an Arabic word meaning light. What’s what got to do with gender? A lot! Added complications arise from the fact that two MEN, with major roles to play in the history of the Indian subcontinent, had names beginning with Zia -- Zia ul Haq (the light of truth) and Zia ur Rehman (the light of the forgiving one—Allah). As a result, the name Zia has come to be automatically associated with men. As a direct result of these two phenomena, regional language influence, and local history, my name – which is a completely different word has become a matter of joke.

[Interestingly though, and completely off the track of my raving (which I will get back to soon enough), JIA is actually a word of the masculine gender, and ZIA feminine … go figure!]

Of course that’s not the end of my Name troubles. The other most common question is “Muslim?” As if only Muslim people have the right to have an Urdu word for a name, and all other people belonging to all other religions should have language specific names too: Hindus – Sanskrit or modern Indian languages (except Urdu of course), Sikhs – Punjabi, Christians – English, and so on. Or, Bengalis will assume I am a non-bong, and have fits when I say I am a Bengali… albeit a non residential one. “That’s not a Bengali name” they commonly say. As if region or ORIGIN too, should limit one’s choice of name.

Well, I beg to differ. While it is true that most people tend to name their kids in their religious, cultural, or language traditions, I believe that has more to do with established ways of thought and conditioning, than any conscious ghettoisation. With modern life being what it is, those boundaries are slowly blurring although a large section of the populace seems unaware of the fact. TV, movies, books, neighbors and friends from different cultures and backgrounds are all contributing to hybrid names. Gujrati girls called Paromita, and Bengali girls called Simran are becoming more and more common. So why not Jia?

1 comment:

  1. nicely written. The same questions were also raised in my mind when I first met u at 'shanti niketan' of Pune University. The name zia/jia is a very common male name in b'desh.