What’s in a Name?


My name is Anu Kanagasabai. It is pronounced exactly the way it is written; no silent letters, no special characters. When people have trouble with the pronunciation of my name, I simply tell them to say, “A NEW CAN OF GAS TO BUY” as fast as they can. This is a tried and tested solution that has a 100 percent success rate. Go ahead, try it! Colleagues and friends have always been able to remember my name after becoming familiar with this phrase. On the downside, with the current state of fuel prices I might need to think of new ways to have people remember my name!

A Telemarketer’s Nightmare

Tamil names are the nightmares of telemarketers, news reporters, HR personnel and teachers alike. I was always certain that when a substitute teacher had stopped to take a deep breath, they had arrived at my name on the attendance sheet. In school, I did not have much of a choice in shortening my name. In fact, it never crossed my mind even though I went through the Canadian education system from the elementary level.

In the professional realm, most of us have the option of shortening our names on our resumés, business cards, e-mail addresses and even our voicemail greetings. I once entertained this idea myself; to use ‘Anu Kana’ on my first ever voicemail greeting and e-mail address. But I dismissed this idea just as quickly as I thought it. I decided that I was going to stick with my real name and make people learn how to pronounce it!

Are We the Only Ones?

Many European names are just as “difficult” to pronounce as ours, if not, even more so. Nevertheless, due to the large volume of European hockey players in the NHL, broadcasters can fluidly pronounce names such as ‘Khabibulin,’ ‘Konstantinov,’ ‘Datsyuk’ and so forth. George Stroumboulopoulos and Zach Galifianakis are just a couple of names in the entertainment industry that are also difficult to pronounce. Many Westerners have learned to pronounce them because Europeans have kept the integrity of their family names.

On the other hand, East Asians are similar to Tamils in that they change their unique names to facilitate their assimilation into the Western Culture. East Asians commonly receive a Western name from either their parents or through school. I once knew a Van Vu in the first grade. He now goes by ‘Jimmy.’ Chinese, Japanese and Korean names are written with the family name first and the given name(s) next. East Asians who immigrate to Western countries reverse this order to be synchronous with Western naming conventions. A popular exception to this scenario is basketball player Yao Ming, whose surname is actually Yao.

What’s the Big Deal?

I have a confession to make. My full first name is Anuruddran. Although my parents gave me this name, not even they refer to me by my full name. In fact, no one has ever referred to me by my full name. This is simply why I go by ‘Anu’. And yes, a lot of times I get mistaken for a girl when people see my name, but that’s something I can live with. I accept and embrace my name, but I don’t know if that is something I can say about every Tamil individual that grew up here. Ladies, how many Tamil guys have you come across named ‘Shawn,’ when their real names are something totally different?

We think we’re doing non-Tamils a favour by shortening our names, but in doing so we are losing a piece of our identity with every dropped letter. Let’s learn to embrace our names for the cultural and religious values they hold. Since we are butchering our names at the corporate level, does that mean we are going to see abbreviated Tamil names on sports jerseys and movie credits? For a race that has been through as much trials and tribulations as ours, something as simple as a name may be all we have left in retaining our unique identity. So, why not keep it?

– Anu

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@Anu_Ksomething is a loner who finds joy in sitting behind a computer monitor and venting about random stuff. He writes articles in hopes of finding others who are just as "normal" as him. Now, it's your turn...

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10 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. Mr A New Can of Gas to buy! I really enjoyed reading your article. It really spoke to me I grew up with teachers taking attendance calling my name and looking all confused when I put my hand up. I look forward to reading more articles!
    – Jennifer Premachandran

  2. Thanks for being the first person to comment on my article Jennifer! I really appreciate the fact that you took the time to read it. I have more articles on the way, and I’m hoping for positive feedback for them as well.
    – Anu Kanagasabai

  3. Hey Anu,

    Great article, you wouldn’t believe how much people struggle with my name. As a Realtor I call in to book many showings and I’m always required to spell out my name and every time I get the same comment from the person on the other line “wow that’s long” as if I didn’t already know. I’ve thought about shorting it many times but just can’t get myself to do it, I guess it makes us who we are.

    I also wanted to same I love what you guys are doing with the site and I think the new generation of Tamil Canadians really need something like this, keep doing your thing.

  4. In biology, a “race” refers to a population with a genetically composition that is different…don’t recall having a genetically different makeup than others.
    In terms of “losing” identity; modernization is about forward thinking. With “samittiveedus” consisting of elaborate celebrations that deviates so extensively from the original purpose, have we not already lost that piece of our culture?
    Let’s be honest, Tamil names are hard. However, who is one to judge another about their cultural heritage in terms of their name? If I was to shorten my name (despite the fact that both “Sri” and “Ram” are quite easily pronounced) would that make me any less of the person I was prior to shortening it?
    Such non-trivial attachement to a culture that is overdue for an overhaul, maybe it is not a bad thing. Think about it; our culture discriminates based on socio-economic background established so far back that current career choices do not even apply. I’m a “farmer” by caste, but a political scientist thus constituting an “academic…a profession that used to be exclusively “Bhramian”. Does that make me Bhramian?

    An individual’s choice in the way they are to be adressed is not an issue for which the “others” are to judge. Granted Tamils do have, for some reason, the intrinsic desire to judge everyone else, I personally feel that by making such a statement about others is why those who change their names are perceived as “less cultured”.

  5. Very interesting article indeed but I must say there is absolutely no problem at all shortening your already ethnic name. A few of things to keep in mind, many Sri Lankan Tamils have super long names because back home they didn’t have last names, so their first names served as their main identifier and thus to avoid duplications of names, many people had long names. In Canada, you have last names, so this isn’t needed. Second, having a shortened ethnic name is much better than simply having a Western name. I’d much rather see an “Anu” than an “Allen.” Getting a completely western name is throwing away your Tamil and/or Hindu heritage completely out, but shortening your ethnic name is simply modernizing your name to reflect the times. Thirdly, what on earth is the point of having a super long name when no one including your parents refer to you by that name but instead refer to you by your shortened name? I’ll tell you what’s the point, NOTHING! That’s my two cents.

  6. I am so glad someone chose to wrote about this. I understand this struggle all too well. My parents never call me by my full name either and I think they messed up the translation when they translated my name from Tamil to English when we immigrated to America. So now I don’t even know how my name really should be pronounced haha.

    Great article btw. Keep em’ coming!

    -Kiru aka Kiruthyagini Sivanesathasan (Key-roo-thee-aaaghee-ni)(See-va-nae-sa-tha-san)

  7. Tamil parents in the West need to stop giving their kids burdensome overly long names with difficult pronunciations and ridiculous numerological spelling.
    It’s amazing how many 90s kids (all born in Canada) have names with ridiculous spelling. Arbitrary consonants, missing vowels etc. At least our last names are spelled phonetically.
    White ethnic Europeans from Germany, Poland, Italy, Ukraine etc gave their kids WASP names over time. How many Hermans and Gunthers and Guiseppes and Vladimirs do you know among 2nd generation+ white Canadians? None.
    Ditto East Asians.
    At the very least give your kid a name that’s short, easy to pronounce and spelled phonetically (North Indians are much better at this).

  8. This reminds me of a piece Sachi Sri Kantha wrote on Tamil names and maintaining identity – especially within the diaspora:
    “The Tamilians (whether they live in Tamilnadu, Eelam, Singapore or Malaysia) traditionally do not carry a constant family name. But now, with computerisation of so many documents including the vital ones such as passport, the necessity to create a family name has to be satisfied. Every individual living in the diaspora is free to create (or chose) his or her family name.
    I would suggest that rather than having one initial (standing for the father’s name), Eelam Tamils need to add another one, which would ideally be a place name (of birth or long-term residence). Traditionally, Tamils in Tamil Nadu do have this practice. Examples are as follows:
    C (Conjeepuram) N. Annadurai
    C (Chidambaram) S. Jeyaramam
    N (Nagarkoil) S. Krishnan
    Here, the place name appears as the first initial in the name of the person. To make a distinction, Eelam Tamils can put the place name as the middle name (or the second initial). For example,
    V.V (Valvettiturai). Prabhakaran
    K.A (Amirthakaii). Ananthan
    By this means, Tamils living in the diaspora can honour their place of birth or long term residence in Eelam, and they will create an identity which will help the future generations of Tamil progeny to trace their roots.”

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