MEET COR­NELL KU­MAR AND ZEN SALUJA Mil­len­nial par­ents are remix­ing baby names

No one wants a bor­ing Rahul or Pooja any­more. Par­ents are scour­ing so­cial net­works, and even pay­ing con­sul­tan­cies to come up with names that are short, un­usual and will work glob­ally

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - SUNDAY SPECIAL - Sharmila.Gane­san@ times­group.com LISA RAY SHAHID & MIRA KAPOOR NEIL NITIN MUKESH & RUKMINI SAHAY

On July 28 this year, a va­ri­ety of red lips de­scended on the doughy cheeks of a three-month-old boy who was tak­ing a glam­orous power nap clad in satin in a cra­dle in Pune. Just min­utes ago, one of these lip­stick-sport­ing women had whis­pered some­thing in his tiny ear and soon, four blue and white bal­loons be­hind him had come off one by one, bar­ing the let­ters of the cu­ri­ous name gifted by his ar­chi­tect fa­ther. ‘ SYON’, read the bold, red let­ters that made the au­di­ence at the nam­ing cer­e­mony rush to a black-and-white standee near the stage, which ex­plained the mean­ing of this San­skrit word via a se­ries of hash­tags: #gen­tle, #hu­mane, #ten­der, #le­nient and #fol­lowed­by­good­luck.

Soon, cu­rios­ity- rid­den con­grat­u­la­tory calls rained on the Mum­bai-based fa­ther, Jay Mali, who ex­plained that he had dug out the rare name from a web­site while search­ing for some­thing as unique as con­struc­tion de­signs. To the few friends who tease him say­ing, “It sounds like Sion, the rail­way sta­tion”, Mali clar­i­fies: “It’s pro­nounced ‘Seeon’, although Se­haan is also right.”

By the time six- month- old Syon goes to school though, the pa­ter­nal disclaimer may not be nec­es­sary. Naksh, Kr­ishiv, Ni­tara, Aadriti, Yazhini — the tongues of kinder­garten teach­ers around the coun­try are in­creas­ingly wrap­ping them­selves around the kind of sounds and spellings that be­fud­dles cake shop sales­men and makes Mum­bai-based birth­day party or­gan­iser Vanita Ro­drigues se­cretly in­vent the phrase ‘ remixed names’. For Ro­drigues — who re­cently not only catered to one lit­tle client named Cor­nell Viren Ku­mar but also wel­comed five-star guests to the nam­ing cer­e­mony of an­other Kr­ish Kr­ishna Ku­mar — the term stands for the trendy east-meets-west mashups of names that im­bue the Rahuls and Priyankas of the world with a mid-life cri­sis.

Many of these remixed names can be found on web­site Baby­cen­ter In­dia’s list of top 100 most pop­u­lar baby names of 2017, a po­ten­tial pre- school reg­is­ter that’s sure to please both Ra­manand Sa­gar and the au­di­ence of Twi­light. Here, for every Atharva, Shau­rya, and Ad­vait, there’s also a Jay­den, Liam and Neil just as for every Siya, Kavya and Shivanya, there’s now an Eliz­a­beth, Eleanor and Gabriella.

While tra­di­tion and re­li­gion still wield a pow­er­ful in­flu­ence over In­dian names, the surge in western names such as Jaxon for boys and a grow­ing affin­ity for fem­i­nine-sound­ing Ara­bic names such as Zara for girls were among the big trends last year, says Di­ane Rai, ed­i­tor of Baby­cen­ter, adding that the pre­ferred way of mod­ernising old favourites for boys is by adding ‘ansh’, which means ‘part of ’, to the end of the name such as Reyansh and Divyansh. For girls, she says, par­ents are in­creas­ingly choos­ing names end­ing with “fem­i­nine sounds” such as “ra” and “vi” which ex­plains the quick as­cent of Myra and Nurvi (the name cho­sen by Neil Nitin Mukesh and wife Rukmini for their new­born).

While many young In­dia par­ents do seek out nu­merol­ogy for baby names — a habit that has led to at least five dif­fer­ent spellings of Myra (Maira, Mayra, Maiyra, and Mairah) on Baby­cen­ter In­dia’s list — what binds them with their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts who are giv­ing birth to Nyla and Ava, is a taste for pocket-sized names that seem tai­lored to fit on a cup­cake.

So acute is this urge for short, dis­tinc­tive names that it has erected a new mar­ket seg­ment for Anan­tha Narayan of Chen­naibased nam­ing con­sul­tancy Al­bert Dali. These days, he is of­ten ap­proached by new par­ents who are tired of con­sult­ing staid nam­ing books and web­sites and are seek­ing “coun­try-neu­tral” names that don’t ad­ver­tise their re­li­gious and cul­tural iden­ti­ties. “Peo­ple want names that are short and work glob­ally. Some­thing like Neel, for in­stance, that means dif­fer­ent things in dif­fer­ent lan­guages is pop­u­lar,” says Narayan, who can sense south In­dia bid­ding farewell to the tra­di­tion of nam­ing kids af­ter the grand­par­ents.

“Though In­di­ans project them­selves as mod­ern, they still go by nu­merol­ogy,” says Narayan, who has come across many par­ents who want the “name num­ber” to be in sync with the baby’s “birth num­ber”. In fact, NaamVidya, a Thane-based nu­merol­ogy startup, al­lows par­ents to do “name anal­y­sis for free and see how a cho­sen name could shape their child’s nar­ra­tive”.

Rou­tinely, the fren­zied, emo­tional search for baby names shakes up In­dia’s myr­iad on­line mommy net­works. On the so­cial me­dia groups and plat­forms of par­ent­ing web­site MomJunc­tion, for in­stance, many new moth­ers share the let­ters or sounds with which they want their baby’s name to start, and ask for sug­ges­tions. Bha­vana Navu­luri, chief ed­i­tor of MomJunc­tion, finds that the in­flu­ence of celebs is now stronger than ever be­fore.

Per­haps this ex­plains why ever since ac­tor Tara Sharma — who now runs a multi-plat­form par­ent­ing show — named her kids Zen ( 9) and Kai ( 7), she sud­denly seems to know of and hear of many more kids with these names. Years ago, what made the half-In­dian, half-English Sharma and her half-Sar­dar, half-Nepalese hus­band Roopak pick the names was the vi­sion of their kids travel- in Tier-2 towns, says Ru­chita Dar Shah of global on­line com­mu­nity of moth­ers, First Moms Club.

Then, in what might be an ef­fect of grow­ing in­ter-com­mu­nity mar­riages, there has also been a spurt in what Baby­cen­ter In­dia calls “com­bi­na­tion names”, names sculpted from con­join­ing parts of both the par­ents’ names. That’s how Shau­rya and Anya come to toy with Shivanya, Sha­ranya or Yash while Sid­dhesh and Kavita may con­tem­plate Vi­dansh, Vitesh or Kaveesh.

Some­times, how­ever, these uniquely- In­dian names lead to uniquely- In­dian sit­u­a­tions. If Narayan has en­coun­tered par­ents who along with a name want a web­site that they can pur­chase for their chil­dren and gift them as they grow older, Gau­rav Dubey of events com­pany Dream­party.in — who has re­cently or­gan­ised birth­days for Spen­ishta, Friyana, Ar­ish and Ehit among other unusu­ally-named tots — had a facepalm mo­ment when a client or­dered a birth­day cake for their kid, Yashaswi. They got one that wished many happy re­turns of the day to ‘SSV’.

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