Should History Stop Us Giving A Certain Name To A Child?

Posted by Nikhil Kumar in Society
December 23, 2016

कुछ न दिखता था अंधेरे में , पर ये आँखें तो थी,

ये कैसी रोशनी आई की लोग अंधे हो गए।

(It was dark, but we still had eyes, 
What is this light that has turned us blind.)

When Taimur Ali Khan Pataudi begins to try to understand the society he was born in, he would feel nostalgic about not trying at all. Soon after the announcement of his birth and his name, a nasty online harassment ensued heaping abuse on the two actors just for naming their child as per their wish. They must have felt agonised at the sheer hatred that was targeted at their family, on a day when they were supposed to be the happiest.

The most common narrative behind this was the assumed motivation of Saif and Kareena to name their child after a certain Turkish conqueror who, to be sure, doesn’t exactly have the same name. Most people who are commenting so religiously and patriotically must never have heard of ‘Timur’ until a few minutes before they read about it online. That, however, was no reason for restraint.

I am not naive to think that this lunacy would not have happened, had the child been named differently. There is enough of cultural vilification and negative association (through popular films, the press and politics) with seemingly Islamic identities to make me think otherwise. I wonder what name would have not been negatively distorted. I am forced to think of incidents when Hindi names have incident have incited such fury and disgust.

‘Ram Singh’, ‘Mukesh Singh’, ‘Vinay Sharma’, ‘Pawan Gupta’, ‘Akshay Thakur’ – these are the names of the convicts who had raped and fatally assaulted a 23-year old woman in Delhi 4 years ago. Are you willing to bet that not one person has been given that name on their birth in these last 4 years? Has that stopped people from naming their sons by these names?

It has not. And it should not. The survivors or victims (of any crime) or their relatives would certainly be filled with horror and anger when they hear the names that invoke sad and terrifying thoughts. It is ironic that we are absolutely comfortable with the names of the convicts being used and reused by people all around us and we feel so uncomfortable with names that associate with a figure from history whom we know little about.

Every name that is given to a child might have some negative association with somebody. If we have to check with a database of names for their past criminal behaviour or historical cruelty, I wonder if we will have names at all. I am not advocating to stop using any names. All I want to point out is the hypocrisy of those who advocate ‘proper’ names. Their advocacy seems to lead them to a nameless society where there is no ‘proper’ name, lest we run the risk of having an amnesiac society (where selective amnesia already exists) or one with an innovative nomenclature of every newborn.

Hopefully, the society that Taimur will inherit from his parents will be one that will not question his name, one where people do not license themselves into others’ personal lives. He wouldn’t have to say –

I don’t even know my name yet!