Guest writer Lalita Arya examines a name and what really might be in it.

There is a café called Bagel T where I used to stop to have a cup of cappuccino when I managed to get an hour off to go for a walk. On the east coast of the USA near Princeton, the weather is much more pleasant than the mid west where I lived for many years. Even in winter I consider the weather mild. But for the people of New Jersey, if snow is predicted, within a few hours you can’t find shovels in the hardware stores and everyone gets into a panic buying up food and bottled water. I wondered what happened to the shovels bought for the previous storm… ah yes, the shovels now are made of plastic though heavy, and crack and break if snow has iced over. It was good weather for a walk.

We from Minnesota look at each other puzzling over the behavior of these people, and are sometimes amused that they actually close schools when there is about four to five inches of snow. So it is pretty nice out here and I enjoy my walks.

I love this bagel café. It is run by women, who are always smiling and willing to take your order. One day, after ordering my usual, I went to their paper stand to select a free or cheap paper to pass the ten minutes I had for my coffee wait. I picked up the DAILY NEWS that was only fifty cents and sat down to enjoy the news, the views and the people.

One headline caught my eye – Hack Supersad – with accompanying photograph of an interesting couple. The guy was a taxi driver in New York. With a name like Supersad, he was subject to many wisecracks by his riders like, “Are you always sad? You don’t look sad.” (This is a quote from the Daily News). I looked again at the photograph and was thrown back to my days in Guyana, South America where I was born. The people in the picture looked like East Indians and I looked at the name again and burst out laughing so loudly I had to say sorry to the people at the nearby tables.

Like many others, this guy’s name was subject of an Anglicization to which many had to yield – many meaning transplanted people (not quite like immigrants) from their mother countries – in this case India – to the colonies – British, Dutch and French. In the process names were changed sometimes because the East India Company personnel just could not pronounce the names or the registrar could not spell, or sometimes from conversion to Christianity. This got me thinking about the importance and significance that our names can have for our personal identity. If you would like to maybe learn more about your own name, you can use an online service such as Genealogy Bank to help you understand your own history more clearly.

The original name of our feature person was Shiva-prasaad – meaning the blessing of Shiva as he was Hindu. The Dutch would change a name like that to Sieuwpersad and the French to Sieupersaud (pronounced Soopersau), the English version could be anything so long as they didn’t have to write the “pra”. When our guy converted to Christianity the name was changed to Supersad, which might have sounded OK where he was born because no one pays attention to grammar or spelling. In fact he might have been nicknamed “Soup” or something like that in the colloquial dialect, but as a taxi driver in NY – well hence the article.

Let us take care when we give names to our kids we choose something they will not be teased over in their childhood. Of course you can’t do anything about your surname!! Well, that is not quite accurate – our actual family names (yes, I did say names) extend to about a line. Fortunately we did not subject our kids to all of them.

But from being blessed by Shiva to being Super Sad… it has history. From an ancestral village somewhere in Bihar to thousands of miles, space and hundreds of years to some village in Guyana, South America, to some little town in New York – not only the immigrants travel, so do their names. Modified to suit local accents and culture.

I chose to use the photo of a rose to go with this article recalling what Gertrude Stein said, “‘…the poet could use the name of the thing and the thing was really there.’ As memory took it over, the thing lost its identity.” But there is the famous quote of Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”


(Sources – The Phrase Finder