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What’s in a Name?

I suppose it’s natural to assume that all parents, irrespective of their parenting style, have good intentions for their new borns. It is with this same intention that they lovingly pick a name for their children. Maybe you and I don’t understand certain name choices – why would anyone name their child on the place in which they were conceived (Arizona, Austin!) or on a favourite fruit (I love you Chris Martin) – but really, who are we to judge?

It’s true, there are some different names out there, but I’m yet to meet a person who goes by the official name of shit-head, poop-show, mud-blaster – all of these which can be labelled as bad names. So what I’m trying to say is that we all have a fair understanding of a good and bad name, and NO parent in their right mind will give their new born a bad identity. 

We all have good names.

So you can imagine my frustration when time and again – mostly while making a restaurant booking – this question is thrown at me “What’s your good name?” In India this is fairly common. It’s so common that we don’t give it a second thought. For years I didn’t. And suddenly, just like that I started paying attention to it. Once I began noticing this irksome question, there was no escaping it. It followed me around, at the hairdressers, restaurants, clubs and hotel reservations. I realised it’s no longer confined to a section of the service industry. Mid-level managers were either ignoring the nomenclature used by the line staff or they themselves didn’t no any better. 

What’s your good name?’ is bad english.

I decided to delve a little deeper. Thanks as always to my lovely husband and our drinking dates to discuss the issues plaguing our society, we managed to break down this question of a good name.  

I. Literal Translation

In Hindi, good name translates to shubh naam which is the actual usage of the phrase. So, ‘What’s your good name?” is ‘Aapka shubh naam kya hai?‘ which is a polite way of enquiring another person’s name. English is a tricky language and for those who learn it just by the book, it’s even more complicated. For a certain section of the society, access to English televisions, movies, stand-ups which are the primary source of learning a language and its nuances is difficult. 

In the West a question like “How are you today?” could solicit a response “yeah good thanks” which in no way assures that the person answering the question is actually good or fine. It’s just a way of response. A way to acknowledge that line of questioning and close it. More often than not, a response like that will indicate no further questions please

These are the nuances that one learns through reading, watching and speaking the language. It’s not something that can be picked up from “Learning English for Dummies”. 

II. Form of Respect

There is a reason India is known for its hospitality. It is because our service industry is tuned to make all customers feel like royalty. We go out of our way and make sure everything is done with such care and perfection, it sometimes edges eerily close to being fake. 

This is the reason I gave up a career in Indian hotels. Prior to that I spent 3 great years in the hotel industry in Australia. The attitude of the hotel staff was relaxed. You could have a real conversation with the guests without dropping ‘certainly’ every few words. 

My point being, service levels are completely different in India. Ours is a deferential society. We take pride in our excessive politeness. So when a reservation agent asks you “What’s your good name?” he is doing so because he feels asking “what’s your name?” could sound impolite and rude. By adding a cushioning of ‘good’ they are softening a blow to a question which is too straightforward. 

Little do they know, that unless they are manning the desk at a Gymkhana or any other upscale country club where the average age of patrons is 45, no one really cares. The millennials don’t care. They’d rather have someone welcome them with a friendly banter. 

Does it really matter?

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that it’s too small a thing to get worked up about. If I was learning a language, I too would be caught up between the literal translation and the inferred meaning. As long as the intentions are good, how does it matter.

Next time when someone asks me my good name, I will smile and reply ‘Twishaa’.  Credit should be given where it’s due. The english that I take for granted, is someone’s pride and I am no one to judge or make snarky comments. 

P.S – My attempts at learning Spanish are going amazingly well..not!! Learning a language is hard work. Money Heist can only do as much. Sometimes you just need a Learning Spanish for Dummies to get you past Hola.

3 comments on “What’s in a Name?

  1. Hi Twishaa. What an interesting article. I’ve always struggled with learning languages (even basic French when I was at school was hard work!) so I have the utmost admiration for those that manage to speak multiple languages and do it well. As you say, simply learning from a book doesn’t enable you to pick up on all of the subtleties of a language – television and, dare I say it, social media provide excellent opportunities to move beyond the textbook. For example, “My attempts at learning Spanish are going amazingly well..not!!” isn’t something that would be shown in a textbook 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha agree. Thanks for commenting Richie. It’s hard work for sure but such a useful skill. I always admire those who have a knack for learning languages.


  2. This was such an interesting read! I wasn’t aware of any of this 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

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