what’s in a name?
When the phone rings and someone stumbles over my name or mispronounces it completely, I usually hang up. My name is Thespine, pronounced Thes-peen. In Greek it is a very common name. It is pronounced exactly the way it is spelled, but the average Joe on the street seems to have a hard time with saying ‘Thespine.’ I don’t know why—it is only one more syllable than “Joe.”
My husband’s name is Pradeep, pronounced Prah-deep, just the way it is spelled. For some reason strangers who call on the phone never seem to get that right, either. He gets “Pray-deep,” “Par-deep,” and “Par-depp” all too frequently. Pradeep came from India to the US thirty-some years ago. In India, ‘Pradeep’ is a fairly common name, but every Tom, Dick and Harry that has something to sell over the phone in the US has problems pronouncing it.
Pradeep and I met at a party when we were in graduate school 30 years ago. We talked, laughed, and met each other’s friends. But I didn’t quite catch his name…
We planned to meet for dinner the next night but no one had a pen or paper so we had to memorize each other’s phone number. It occurred to me that I’d better get his name, too, but it was difficult enough just to remember that phone number.
He called the next afternoon. He said “This is Pradeep.”
I said to myself “Parakeet? Did he say ‘parakeet?’” But instead I said “Hi! This is Thespine. I’m glad you called!”
Five years later we got married. By then I had figured out what his name was and he had learned mine.
Then a few years after that, we found ourselves trying to name our first child. Uh oh.
We wanted a Greek name, we wanted a Hindi name. But most importantly we wanted a name that people could pronounce. Fortunately for us, Alexander the Great had sailed to India three thousand years earlier and many of the Greeks fell in love with the country and chose to stay, intermarrying with Indians and producing a slew of Indo-Greek names from which to choose.
Pradeep’s mother went to the astrologer in India, who told her what letters or sounds (also called ‘digraphs’ or ‘diphthongs’) are most auspicious for a Hindu name. Traditionally, Greek names are Biblical. It took us a while; we only had nine months to find a name that wouldn’t offend either side of the family.
We chose Nathan. In the Bible, Nathan was a court prophet who lived in the time of King David. In Hebrew Nathan means “gift from God.” Fortunately for us, there is a Hindu God named Nath, and Nathan in Hindi means “from the God Nath.” But most fortunately for us and for the sake of family harmony, the ‘n’ sound was on the list of auspicious sounds for names.
Plus, our son could go buy stickers with his name on them at any drugstore—something neither of his parents could ever do.
Then came the second child.
In Greek culture, children are named after their father’s parents, then their mother’s parents. Again history was on our side. We named our second son Alexander, both after my father and after Alexander the Great, who had invaded India in 326 BC and stayed there. Alexander in Hindi is Secunder. But we just call him Alex. He can buy plastic license plates for his bike off a rack very easily—something neither of his parents could ever do.
We were pretty much out of workable boys’ names by that time—there were only one or two left. So when our baby girl showed up, we had to start a whole new search.
By that time we were experts at choosing names. Plus, this one was a cinch: we named her Nina. In Hindi Neena means “little girl” and Nina was a Russian saint in the Orthodox Church, so we were covered.
Beautifully written. I am a family friend of Pradeep in Bombay though I live in Jaipur now.
I actually think that “Parakeet” works better for him.
Thespine, I absolutely love your
amazing writing-style and your awesome, story-telling ability! You are one of the very few who can teach me a bit of history while making me laugh out loud at the same time!