In the last Assembly election, different media platforms had a field day musing with the fancy names amongst the people of Meghalaya and these names sometime sound absurd. The blame should be squarely put on this columnist for initiating the deliberation on this unusual subject since the last 2013 Assembly election when I start with my own name.
Taking leave from one’s own name, one H on my name is Hamkhein, my father’s name and the other H is for one’s own given name, which is Helpme. And yes, when people ask me ‘why did your parents name you Helpme’, the answer is because every time you call my name, you also ask for my help. So the name in some way compelled one to be of help to someone who calls out the person’s name.
So much has been written about the fancy names that we have and apart from having people named after important personalities like Hitler, Napoleon, Churchill, Lincoln etc., names like Let me, Win Stone and For Me and even Kiss Me was given to an individual. Recently, a friend forwarded via WhatsApp a wedding photograph which has an inscription on the board in the wedding pandal which says ‘Special weds Speed’. Obviously, Special and Speed are the names of the bride and the groom and not some fancy slogan you happen to see hanging on the wall.
Naming children after famous people continues till today; so, we have young man named Maradona because he was born during the 1986 World Cup; parents also named their children after movie stars and now since wrestling mania becomes popular, kids are even named after famous wrestlers too. Kids were named to commemorate certain incident in the history which has so much influence on the parents and they named their kids after the popular figure in the event.
There are also names which become interesting when the first name is combined or read together with the surnames or the last name. Shillong was once a popular name amongst the War Jaintia people perhaps it is because this has to do with the ‘lei Shillong’, the most popular deity in the Khasi-Pnar pantheon of gods and there are also surnames or clan’s name which is named after a place like Rymbai, Sutnga, Nartiang, etc. So if a person’s name is Shillong and his surname is Rymbai, both the names of the person and the surnames are also names of two places, for example, Shillong Rymbai or Shillong Sutnga.
There are also surnames or clans’ names like Plain or Pohtamn amongst the Khasi-Pnar people and incidentally, we used to have a neighbour, who is from a Plain clan and her name is Hill; so her name is Hill Plain. There is a clan name in War Jaintia which is Pohtam that literarily means, the lowest status or rank, and there is a man from this clan whose name is High Born. If one reads the name and surname together, his name reads as High Born Pohtam in which the name and the surname has the total opposite meaning – ironic indeed. The name is High Born, who is of a lowest status or rank.
The above names are nothing when compared to the two following names that I came across recently. There is nothing wrong with somebody named Pelnis; it is a normal name to me until I was told that his name spelt differently until somebody suggested that he inserts alphabet ‘l’ in the middle of his name to make it spell right.
A friend, who works as a gramsevak in a block office in Jaintia hills, told me of the other strange names and though in one reads it has a normal meaning, but it is only when like my gramsevak friends, your mind is always looking for funny names that the other side of the name becomes obvious.
In normal reading ‘Phok mi’ which also means ‘your kite’ in Pnar is of course an unusual name for a woman but we all know it is not strange at all to have odd name in the Khasi Pnar community. But if like our journalist friends who have this fascination for odd tribal names; one starts reading it using the language we assume is the lingua franca of the world, then you have a different meaning altogether. So sometimes the problem is also with the person who reads the name or as they say – it is in the eye of the beholder.
The awkward name issue will continue to fascinate us for years to come and the good thing is that we can also joke about it. HH Mohrmen is a freelance writer and environment activist based in Jowai, Meghalaya. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org