How Tamil Parents Name their Kids

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To start, my name’s not really Krishnapher. It could have been, though, if I was born in Canada. Maybe, I don’t know. And to be honest I really don’t see my dad going through that thought process.

You have to grow up in Canada to understand the need for the “Universal Name”. My parents named me Vinothan, a.k.a. Vino (pronounced Vin-o) a.k.a. Vino (Vee-no as every non-Tamil pronounces it).

Since my parents didn’t grow up in Canada, they had no idea what I had to go through as a kid. They didn’t foresee the amount of times I would have to introduce myself – hearing my given name butchered and syllabized incorrectly – to finally settle on “Just call me Vee-no”.

Over my whole school career, I was called “Vee-no”. It was all fine and dandy until an office admin called my name over the PA.

“Hello Ms. Snow, could you please have ‘V-no-than’ come to the office?”

** kids giggling in the background**

“Sorry Ms. Blanche, but I think you’ve got the wrong class.”

That’s when I would put my hand up, say “That’s me”, and start heading towards the front door, avoiding all eye contact with the rest of the class – only to come back to a room full of my peers asking what my name really was and how to pronounce it. Which was just a re-introduction, with the same butchering – if not worse – and all going back to “Just call me Vee-no”.

Whatever, at least I wasn’t Sukhdeep. His name sucked (pun intended – because it really did back in that sixth grade classroom).

This wasn’t just at school. It was anywhere my given name was required on a form or application. At job interviews, at work, even on emails – when I see “Dear Vinothan” I cringe. I just know they said it wrong when they typed it. I hated that awkward tango I’d always have to go through just to introduce myself – something I knew I couldn’t let my children experience.

I could never give my children a fully authentic Tamil name. If I did, it would have to be short right from the get go. I’d treat the birth certificate similar to Twitter – limited characters (twenty letters tops).

When you include my last name, there are just nine characters left over for a first and middle name. I could work with that. And that was the plan when my wife was pregnant and we started considering names for our son.

We named our son Mateo which means “God’s Gift” in Spanish. Not an English name. Not a Tamil name. But Spanish. I know, right? But it was unique, it was short, and it had a beautiful meaning.

Editors-Note

My wife chose the name, fell in love with it, and wanted to keep it a secret from our families. I don’t blame her. The names I was choosing were all from video games and anime characters, and keeping it from our family seemed like a good idea at the time.

When my son was born and we did his first introduction to our families in the delivery room, there was silence. Our siblings got the name instantly, but you could see the wheels turning in our parents’ heads. They couldn’t say his name properly. Not on the first try, not on the second, not even three months later.

Singing “Happy Birthday” on his first birthday is going to be funny – his name being said 15 different ways. Maybe it’ll be mumbled or maybe it’ll be avoided all together, as if a CD skipped on the birthday track.

We did have one uncle who asked for my son’s name. When we told him, he just said “Oh.” Never repeating it or asking for us to repeat it. Not even attempting to say it. Nothing – just, “Oh.”

I don’t know what happened. He probably had another train of thought. Or maybe he just didn’t know what to call my son. Maybe he wanted to call my son “M.” “How are you? M, come here.”

A name is the foundation of our identities. Our parents may have looked at numbers and astronomy. But for those of us who grew up in the West, naming our children requires master planning. Words it rhymes with, how it will be pronounced at school, and how our own families will pronounce it.

When you consider all that, the “Universal Name” sounds more practical than comical. What up to all my Markrathan’s in 2020!

Related articles:
What’s in a Tamil Name: The Story of Senthoorselvan Selvaratnam
What’s in a Name?
10 Things You Have to Deal With If You Have a “Foreign” Name
If You Live in the UK or Canada, Your Indian Sounding Name Faces Resume Discrimination
My Clan Name is Pillay

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Kris Bala

Kris Bala

Kris Bala was on his way to completing his PhD in Engineering, but that dream came to a sudden end. No one knows what happened. Some aunties say it was a girl, some aunties say it was the "rapping music". If you ask his parents though, they'll tell you he's taking an extra year to learn advance engineering (a course only for top students). They're not lying -- that's what they truly believe, because that's exactly what Kris Bala told them.

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4 thoughts on “How Tamil Parents Name their Kids

  1. I think your experiences shape who you are. As does your comfort levels. In contrast to your discomfor and embarrassment about the mispronounciation of you name, I fortunate to live in an area full of immigrants, whether your Punjabi, Pakistani, Chinese, tamil- I had plenty of classmates with their traditional names.

    At the end of the day, I think we should feel comfortable with our names, whatever it is. The upcoming generation of parents and Tamil parents is all about naming their children the latest on trend names and that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean the Sukhdips, Aranis, Kandeepans and Hasibs of the world have names that are seen as any less than the kaleighs and Michaels. At the end of the day, that’s your experience and your comfort level with how sometimes non- brown people will mispronounce your name.

  2. I’m a teacher and your name is so common among kids and all the teachers pronounce it right. I don’t think kids actually giggled at your name. It’s not like your name is a 14 letter name. I have a 15 letter tamil last name and my students pronounce it just right. All students are taught to call everyone by their full name and that everyone is unique. Our names are our identity. That means you probably didn’t do the 31st with an Iyaar either because come on, why go through all that smoke and prayer with a baby like? You probably didn’t have a Hindu wedding because why spend grands on listening to an Iyaar right? Just the way you would do all those rituals etc due to our culture, same way our name is our identity.

  3. Vinothan is actually easy to say compared to Pungavi 😂 My name is never said correctly by anyone outside my family, not even by my Tamil friends! But I don’t mind at all, because we don’t live for others. We shouldn’t choose a name for our children just because it’s easy for foreigners to say. This is how we lose our culture slowly. I am very much proud of my name and wouldn’t never change it despite all the people calling it wrong, because hey at least they try (even tho they always ask if I have a nickname first)

  4. This is exactly how we forget our roots and value. You wanted foreigners to be able to pronounce your son’s name properly but in the process, you made it harder for your family to say it. Shouldn’t your family matter. I just named my son .. and I can tell you that there are plenty of tamil names easy to pronounce by Tamils and foreigners.

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