What’s in a name?
Everything – if you knew what’s been happening to mine!
By Viney Kirpal
Proudly, my mother told me that they had chosen my name out of 500 that they had adoringly listed for their first born. “We had to name you with the letter ‘V’. Your father first thought of naming you ‘Veerbala’.”
Veerbala? “Yes, he wanted you to be a brave girl but I turned it down.”
Why? It sounded like a wrestler’s name.
“Then we decided on ‘Viney’ which means ‘prayer’, humility’.”
“But why ‘Vineypalkaur’ and not ‘Viney’?” “Because your father wanted a ‘Pal’ dynasty. It was in vogue those days. You and your brother have got a ‘Pal’ in your names.”
But Mani escaped. “Yes, I named her. Lucky girl!”
Any problem? “No, no. It has only made our names very long. What’s in a name? You are as dear to us as with any other name.”
mr or ms ?
In North India, names like Saroj, Krishna are gender-neutral. My real woes began when I went to Pune for post-graduation. “Are you Viney or Vinaya?”
Viney. “But that’s a boy’s name. Sikhs have unisex names –Jaspal Kaur, Jaspal Singh. Girls use ‘Kaur’. Boys use ‘Singh’. What do these mean? Lion. The tenth Sikh Guru wanted every Sikh to be a lion”. “Wow! So I’m Vineypalkaur, not Vinaya,” I stated with pride. “Hmm,” my friend uttered in enlightenment.
Having explained to one classmate was not enough. I had to repeat the explanation to some others until everyone knew that Viney was a Sikh female.
But the administrative office was un-teachable. I had the perpetual humiliation of seeing ‘Mr.’ prefixed to my name.
And professors? One put up a notice with a question mark added to every part of my name: Viney? pal?? kaur??? Kirpal???? I was quite upset. Everyone was enjoying the fun and teasing me. I marched into the prof’s room: “Sir, why did you type my name with so many question marks?” “Miss, are all those names yours?” “He asked.” I haven’t borrowed them! “Okay, okay” he tried to mollify me. “Come, sit down. What do you want as an elective?” He listed some interesting choices. It’s so easy to distract a 19 year-old.
Next came the turn of a lady professor who announced that she wished to meet Miss ‘Cripple’. “I am Ms.Kirpal You wished to see me?” “Oh, you are Cripple? Not Cripple, Kirpal”. “Oh it’s the same thing”, her arms flailing grandly in the air. These English teachers! She continued to address me as ‘Cripple’ throughout the term. I took sweet revenge by mimicking her during our send-off.
Cut to 1974, my colleagues at the college I taught in were always polite and politically correct. Nothing in the open. Only one lady who told me of her uncle named ‘Vinay’, spelt it with ‘a’. Yeah?
one name: many variations
In 1989, at a conference in England, a participant complimented me on a paper I’d written for a British journal. “I loved your paper!” she gushed. “Thank you”. Then, as we exchanged pleasantries, she slipped this one in, “You know,” she said lowering her voice to a whisper, “I thought you were a man?” “Why?” I asked some Indians here. I cursed those Indians under my breath, and told her, “Well, I am not, as you can see”. “Sorry,” she said and fled.
The other conferees were not to be left behind. I was Vini, Wine-y, and everything else but Viney. I geared myself to bear it: Another three days…..
September 2018: I was admitted to a hospital in Chennai. Those sweet young nurses– Goodness, the kheema they made of my name! Every nurse– three in a 24-hour cycle – “What’s your name?” They couldn’t pronounce it. My family while admitting me, had written my full name as on the Aadhar card! For the nurses the problem was not the male name but the unfamiliar North Indian name. Finally I told them: “Call me ‘ Viney’ Nice! We like you. I like you too”.
Bearable, until two unique incidents occurred during my post-discharge reviews.
During the first, the doctor’s PA told me I didn’t have an appointment. I do. I booked it over the phone. I’ve paid the fee. Here’s the receipt.
“Yes, but the name here is different.”
“Why? I don’t know”. He verified my mobile number and sent me in.
It was just before my last visit that I got the shock of my life. I was trying to book my appointment on the hospital app to get the 50 per cent fee discount. It wouldn’t accept my name: “You are not registered”, the message kept popping up repeatedly. The name that kept coming up was an unrecognisable: “Dinay Paul Ghour”. I was wondering who had registered in my place when it suddenly clicked: It was my name: Viney Pal Kaur! “Admit, Shakespeare you were wrong!”