Stuck in a mid­dle name mud­dle

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Sunday Special -

It ad­dles the mind to think that for 500 years, peo­ple have been toss­ing around the ques­tion: ‘What’s in a name?’ when the real poser ought to be ‘What’s in a mid­dle name?’. Or as the truly luck­less have it — mid­dle names in tongue-tax­ing mul­ti­ples, strung to­gether in a com­mem­o­ra­tive ge­neal­ogy for which no line on a govern­ment form is gen­er­ous enough!

Us, Catholics, chiefly e mploy t he mid­dle name/s to memo­ri­alise de­ceased rel­a­tives and to pla­cate liv­ing ones. It means much to the an­cient aunt in a rock­ing chair on her Goan-Por­tuguese porch, or a feud­ing brother to whom the olive branch of peace­ful prop­erty divi­sion is held out, to have their names ex­tend­ing into the fu­ture — as if by tack­ing it to some un­sus­pect­ing child’s name, they too will march meta­phys­i­cally into the ex­cit­ing times of Gen X/Y/Z. Most of the time, I sus­pect, they’re just pleased to be counted. So you’ll have Josephine Geraldine Jemma Visita­cion Pu­rifi­ca­cion Per­petua Gomes, in a flow­ing tribute to sev­eral aunts, grandaunts and pet cousins.

Some peo­ple have so many mid­dle names, you’d think their par­ents were train­ing them for a life­time of mem­ory games. A rel­a­tive of mine has six! I bet he for­got five of them by the time he was 30.

I’ve never had oc­ca­sion to be­rate this point­less in­ter­po­si­tion, this use­less word wedge, this im­po­tent in­ter­po­la­tion — save the odd, pri­vate lamen­ta­tion over the mid­dle name ‘Ronha’, which I was afraid peo­ple would in­ter­pret as dole­ful — un­til re­cently when I sought to en­rol my chil­dren in a school.

Here’s how the cri­sis un­folded…

The birth cer­tifi­cate of my chil­dren, is­sued by the mu­nic­i­pal cor­po­ra­tion of Mum­bai, has the mother’s full name down as: first name, hus­band’s name, sur­name; and the fa­ther’s as: first name, fa­ther’s first name, sur­name. If this patronymic dev­ilry was the work of a cul­tur­ally-bi­ased mu­nic­i­pal­ity or some twisted arm of our fam­ily, I can­not tell.

But of course apart from these govern­ment-given mid­dle names, my hus­band and I have other, Chris­tian mid­dle names be­stowed at bap­tism and these, stamped on other of­fi­cial doc­u­ments, con­flict with those on our chil­dren’s birth cer­tifi­cates. And then of course, I took my maiden sur­name as my mid­dle name af­ter mar­riage. The school po­litely asked us to rec­on­cile our mul­ti­ple iden­ti­ties and then reap­ply.

(An aside: my fa­ther-in-law — who owns a four-string fret­board of names — goes pop­u­larly by his sec­ond name, which has led to other kinds of hair­pulling! Thank God it was his first and not the sec­ond name we re­mem­bered to pin to the birth cer­tifi­cates.)

All this led my hus­band and I to won­der if we shouldn’t nix our mid­dle names al­to­gether. They had caused us noth­ing but tears (I lit­er­ally broke down at a per­verse pass­port of­fice); un­even teeth from all that grit­ting; and the equiv­a­lent of one car EMI in school ad­mis­sion forms.

Had we been an­cient Ro­man slaves, I thought, we would have never had these trou­bles. They had all of one name. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the up­per crust had three — a nomen­clat­u­ral tri­fecta called Tria Nom­ina to dou­ble-glaze their so­cial sta­tus. This in­cluded the praenomen or per­sonal name given by par­ents, the nomen or clan name, and the cog­nomen, a name in­di­cat­ing fam­ily branch, place of ori­gin, trade, ac­com­plish­ment, or phys­i­cal fea­ture, like Tac­i­tus to mean tac­i­turn or silent, Cae­sar to mean lux­u­ri­ant hair.

Around the En­light­en­ment, another bunch of rich blokes out West de­cided the longer the name the greater the so­cial stand­ing, and added the names of saints and rel­a­tives to the name of the child, to flat­ter the in­hab­i­tants of both home and heaven. What good that did any­one is any­one’s guess!

No one re­mem­bers the al­pha­bet soup be­tween the first and last names any­way. Here’s proof. The man presently

Chad Crowe

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.