Name Fame

Sodawaterbottleopenerwala. Quite a mouthful isn’t it? Imagine that you had to fit in this every time you filled a form which asked for your surname! Yes indeed, this is a real Parsi surname! While this may be the longest of them all, many surnames incorporate the suffix wala or vala, which indicates a vocation, or association with a particular food or item. In colonial Bombay there were Masalawalas –the sellers of spices, Narielwalas—the coconut vendors and Paowallas who served up the Pao—the distinctive Portuguese-influenced bread. Supporting the culinary individuals were Canteenwalas, Confectioners, Messmans, Bakerywalas, Hotelwalas, and Commissariats.

The Parsis are not the only community in India that took names that reflected their traditional professions. We have Doctors, Contractors and Engineers who today may not necessarily ply those trades. Similar in a sense perhaps to Mr Baker, Mr Cook, Mr Carpenter, and Mr Mason.

While we not have as colourful a gamut of names as Mr White, Mr Green and Mr Brown, we do have a menagerie that includes Mr Elephant (Hathi), Ms Mosquito (Macchhar), Dr Horse (Ghoda), and little Miss Mankad (Bedbug)!

Every state and every community has a huge melange of surnames, the study of which has engaged scholars over the years. The study of names is called onomastics; this covers the naming of all things, including place names (toponyms) and personal names (anthroponyms). Given names, often called first names, and surnames, often called last names, usually derive from words with distinct origins.

On a less academic note, I found a listing that tried to imagine a fit match between the possible titles of books with probable authors. These are certainly very English, but good for a chuckle!

Bits and Pieces    Miss E. Laneous

Without You I am Nothing   Dee Pendent

Arranging Letters   Ann A. Gram

Fall of an Empire   De Cline

Stringed Instruments   Vi O. Lin

Cardiac Attack   Hart A. Tack

Jean Machine   Den Him

Don’t be Small   B. Tall

Not Very Nice   Terry Ball

Lazy Medic   Dr Doolittle

Comedians   Joe Kerr

Runny Nose   Hank A. Chief

Time    San d’Glass

Horoscopes  Zoe d’Iack

It would be fun to make similar lists for desi names too. A good game for the next party!

–Mamata

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