THE BLOG
08/21/2014 06:07 pm ET Updated Oct 21, 2014

Nickname Dilemma: To Name or Not to Name

Have you ever wondered why we find it so difficult to call people by the regular name their parents chose for them? Why do we twist and turn and squeeze the name till we come up with our own version of a carefully thought about form of address? And this is a universal phenomenon, more in some countries than others.

In my country it is very common for a grown up woman to be still called "Baby" or a man well past his childhood to be called "Guddo," a name he was affectionately called by when a little boy. And till when does a girl qualify to be called "Gudiya" (doll)? Can she still enjoy the benefits that come with such a charming name until she starts growing old and grey and wrinkly? Probably then it will be time to change her name to "Budiya" (old woman)!

Some shortened forms do make sense and are handy especially when the original name is rather long but some contortions are just too ridiculous. So while it makes sense to contract three and four syllable names like Kehkashan to Kesh, Irfanuddin to Iffy, Shamsuzzuha to Shams, Jennifer to Jen and Ankita to Anki; Lucy would surely mind if we were to call out, "Hey there, Loo!" I mean, we might not actually be using that spelling but if someone hanging around overheard and covered their nose, who would be to blame?

I still haven't figured out why Richard is called Dick and William, Bill. Maybe there is some scientific way names are shortened into nicknames. What amazes me is that some nick names are actually longer than the original name. Kim is lovingly expanded to Kimmy and John stretches to Johnny.

A shortened name can also hurt religious sentiments. My son's friends have been warned not to shorten his name, Mustafa, to Mustaf or Mustu for it is also the name of Prophet Mohammed. Then there was this neighbor of ours in Saudi Arabia whose ten year old son came home crying one day. His beautiful name Hamid had been cropped to Ham, a form of meat taboo to Muslims.

The list of nicknames that are unrelated to original names is endless. So Nobby, Bebu, Bobo, Biba, Bunty, Dabs, Pads, Rinky, Mink, Puchku,Tinkle, anything goes. Just put a few alphabets together, jumble them up, add a bit of creativity and you can fashion your own special name for a loved one.

A friend of mine who had spent a few years in a North Eastern state of India told me of people's obsession there of naming kids after material things rather than qualities, so it was not unusual to find children named Aeroplane, Candle and Fork. The cake most certainly goes to a couple whose fixation with everything automobile lead to the most unusual names for four of their sons. The eldest was called First Gear. Then along came number two who was called Second Gear. It naturally followed, then, that the third and fourth children were named Third Gear and Fourth Gear respectively. And if they hadn't named their fifth son Reverse Gear, the family would probably have expanded further! I often wonder if any of those kids grew up to become automobile mechanics or something related.

Sometimes nicknames tell about some aspect of a person. They bear resemblance to the person's nature and general disposition like Sweetie, Honey, Mishri, Happy, Lucky, Easy; or age or order of birth as in Badki (eldest), Manjhli (middle one) and Chotu/Chutku (youngest). There are others yet who pick on physical attributes while assigning nicknames, some of the popular ones being Motu (fat), Tiny, Minnie (small built), Lambu (tall), Golu (rotund), Kalu/Kalia (dark-skinned). Bunny and Kitty at once bring to mind a picture of someone cute and lovable.

Nicknames are great identifiers and some people may even be delighted to be recognized thus. But no, not I. The day Barrack Obama was sworn in President of the US, I was highly relieved. For too many years my nickname had dominated international media and sent tremors down many a spine. The relief was obvious. I was now thrilled to have my identity back!