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Naamsutra: History and Culture of Bong Names Monday, 1 June, 2009

Posted by ~uh~™ in Soceity & Cultures.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Warning: Long post.

My Name

My real name is a very common Bengali name. My name was so common at school, that I had 5 other guys with the same name in my section and three more including all other sections. To differentiate between us namesakes, our friends had to add various adjectives and/ or surnames as prefixes- Mota (Fat), Pagla (Mad), Boba (dumb) and surnames like Das and Chaku (abbreviated from Chakraborty). During our school exams we had to sit with senior classes- like Class six with class ten and so on. I clearly remember one instance when a senior sitting beside me had the same name and the surname of mine. I found that out while he was filling up the answer sheet form. I started to believe that I am like just another face in the crowd. What’s the point of having a name which is so common that one can readily remember atleast five known persons by that name? I sulked.

Obviously, I was never happy with such abundance of my namesakes everywhere. There were two major Bollywood movie stars with the same first name. Uniquely, one of them is Muslim by religion while the other is Punjabi. I was also bored with the most common way my name was spelt. So while filling up the form of Secondary Exam, I took a long deep breath and changed the spelling. Though the change was mere replacing an ‘a’ with ‘o’, but that momentary enjayment became a bong flavored enjoyment for life.

While studying in Delhi for my master’s degree, I found that my name is actually an ubiquitous National name. People from all state, origin and culture sport the name. However, I think my name is just an odd exception of Bengali names, which this post is about.

Bengali names and its characteristics always intrigued me. Bengali’s are immediately identified by their names, in case one can’t identify from his/ her looks or accent (which is a very rare case). But Bengali names and its socio-cultural significance needs some detailed categorized explanation.

A Bong has two names

Bhalo naam (Good name or formal name) and Dak naam (nick name). Those who has read / or seen Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake, must be familiar with the concept. Whenever a Bengali baby is born (except for countries like US where naming a baby is mandatory even before it’s birth), s/he is not immediately named with a Bhalo Naam. Till such time the Bhalo Naam is deliberated by the generous contributions from innumerable uncles-aunties, grand parents, neighbours, office colleagues, neighbour’s colleagues, friends, maids, friend’s neighbour, colleague’s friend and finally the family Gurudev the great ‘Baba’or ‘Swamiji’. Till such time a suitable Bhalo naam is being collated, analyzed and synthesized the bong baby is called by his nick names. Fundamentally, every bong boy is ‘babu’ or ‘khoka’ and girl is ‘khuki’ or ‘budi’ for the parents, so that’s the basic nick name any bong species would start with. It is to be understood that the nick names are more character oriented and deeply dipped in love; affection and creativity so mostly do not have any bearing with the real name whatsoever. It is also important to understand that the number of nicknames one bong baby has, is directly proportional to the number of reatives and neighbours its family keep good terms with.  So one bong boy can be  ‘babu’ to his mom, ‘babai’ to his dad, ‘dadusona’ to his granddad but called ‘lala’ by his friends, ‘gola’ by his cousins and  ‘Jaggu’ by the  bollywood buff neighbour.

Without nicknames Gauranga Chakraborty and Alokesh Lahiri could never have become Mithun(da) and Bappi (da). Does Abhas Kumar Ganguly , Prabodh Chandra Dey or Nilanjana Lahiri ring any bell unless I tell you those are bhalo naam of Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey and Jhumpa Lahiri?

When I was a kid the most common form of daknaams used to be potla, hulo, nadu, habul, ghoton, bablu, gogol, bumba etc for boys and tepi, puchki, tuni, buni, tumpa, rinku for girls. Now a days they mostly sound like foriegn names- sonia, ginia, mark, gama, hojo, mimi, mona, pinto, rocky etc. On this context , many non-bengali bollywood artistes are more popularly known by their ‘bengali sounding’ daaknaams. ‘Tabu’ is a very common male daknaam  in any para in Kolkata, whereas any guy with a name ‘Ram’ is affectionately called as ‘Remo’ by his friends. Sukumar Ray’s famous character ‘Pagla Dashu’ has many such mentions. By that logic it seems Ram Fernerdez may have a strong bong influence behind his name and fame.

Amusing it might sound but the fact remains that even the most aristocratic, rich and influential Bong gentlemen and ladies would have an equally embarrassing daknaam at home and would be called by by that by the elders and friends.

Though many bongs may not like it, but it’s the daknaam which has always been more popular with famous bengalis – examples Goshtho Pal ( Goshtho Bihar i Pal), Chuni Goswamy (Subimal Goswami), Fata Keshto, Tutu Bose, Panchamda ( Rahul Deb Burman), Dada ( Sourav Ganguli), Pritam ( Pritam Chakraborty), George Biswas ( Debabrata Biswas) and most favoirite Manikda ( Satyajit Ray).

Even in fiction Jatayu is more popular than Lalmohan Ganguli (the droll writer character in Satyajit ray’s Feluda novels). Just try thinking what would have happened to these powerful characters without their nicknames Feluda ( Pradosh Miter), Ghanada ( Ghanashyam Das), Tenida (Bhojohori Kukherjee), Kyabla (Kushal Mitra), Pyala ( Kamlesh Banerji) and Habul ( Habul Sen) ?  Of course we have our Didi (Mamata Bannerjee) as powerful and amplified as any fictional characters.

That’s why the trend has changed now daaknaam is the new bhalo naam now- e.g Tapur & Tupur Chatterjee, the famous twin bong models. Btw Tapur-tupur denote the sound of trickling raindrops.

Common names

These are the commonest names. Indranil, Subhashish, Debashish, Anirban and Dipankar would be found in every class, every office and every goddam place on earth. When I was in school every fifth bong kid was named either Indranil or Debashish. Almost every Debashish has a brother named Subhashish and vice versa. Similarly Dipankar’s will have Subhankar; Debojyoti will have Shobhojyoti; Alok would have a Ashok as a rule. Similarly for bonginis Sudeshna, Gargi, Mausumi, Ananya, Lopamudra and Moonmoon are found in abundance. I have observed certain names have typical recognizable characteristics- like I am yet to meet a Sudeshna who’s unattractive or  a  Moonmoon who is skinny. But let’s keep that discussion reserved for another post.

Names used in Idioms

I can readily recall three Bengali idioms which are biased towards certain names.

1. Mere baaper naam Khagen kore debo! [ Will beat you so hard that your dad would be renamed as Khagen]. I don not know the story behind this idiom hence fail to understand the significance of the name Khagen. However the only relief is that son’s of  real Khagens don’t have to worry too much.

2. Joto dosh  Nondo Ghosh [ Nondo Ghosh is the universal scapegoat]. Unexplainable but I guess Nondo Ghosh here represents the faceless, powerless aam aadmi who is to be blamed whenever something goes wrong.

3. Lage taka debe Gouri Sen [When money is needed Gouri Sen would provide]. Gouri Sen here is a rich male businessman from 18th century Bengal.

4. Baler (Bal-slang for pubic hair used as figure of speech to denote inferiority) kotha Basuram ke giye bolo [Talk such bullshit to Basuram and not to us].  in college, we used this phrase mercilessly and randomly to anyone who tried to bullshit us . I never figured why Basuram would be interested to take bullshit anyway.

Complicated names

Traditionally bong’s used to take great pride in naming their offsprings with obscure, complicated, long and difficult names. Pundorikakkho, Pradyumno, Khsiteesh, Adriveet, Ayaskanto, Rudraneel, Archisman, Indrayani, Haimabati, Anuranjini, Tilottama- names which sound like characters of epic tales. Difficult to spell and impossible to pronounce for everyone else. Once in our University campus, I saw a guy, probably in the first year calling out to his newly met female classmate. ‘Dhritidipa….ei Dhritidipa….Dhritidipa….’ he was struggling his best with eyes popping out, face radiating a blood red glow and hands trembling like snapped tail of a lizard. I shuddered to imagine what would happen to him when their intimacy grows further.

The culture is gradually fading and minimalistic contemporary names with lesser syllables are in vogue now. Bongs have realized  now that their world is larger than Kolkata and to make a ‘name’, it has to be modern and user friendly.  However those modern names invites trouble of a different nature. My cousin named their son ‘Sampan’ meaning a Chinese skiff , which was meant to be artistic and romantic. Unfortunately in Haryana, where they stay, people conveniently changed it to ‘Sampanna’ meaning affluent. Similarly one of my friend named Arijit was transformed to ‘Harijeet’ by his collegues at Nehru Place.

Another guy, who’s parent must have thought he would be fast and furious and lovably named him as ‘Tibro’ . Eventually after lot of experimentation like Tibr, Tibre, Tivra he settled for ‘Teev’ for everyone’s convenience.

Globalized Bong Names

Thanks to the globalization, names which are complicated to pronounce and at times no less a tongue twister are compelled to be globalized. A  globalized bong name can be pronounced and written with minimal effort. When successful educated Bongs land up at the lands of Sahebs (a bong term equivalent to ‘gora’ applied to a white skinned person anywhere outside India) they promptly globalize their names.

Some examples:

SatyaSundar Bose ( Sata Bose- the famous character of Chowringhee played by Uttam Kumar) is probably the trendsetter. Sabyasachi Sen (Saby Sen), Rananjay Sarkar (Ronny Sarkar) Dipankar Bhattachharyya ( Dip B Acharya), Shiladitya Ghosh ( Adi G), Ashoke Bandopadhyay ( Isac Bannerjee), Padmalochan Karmakar (Paddy Kar), Bodhisatya Purokayostho ( Bodhi Pkay), Sushmita Sen (Sush), Ipsita (Ips), Vatsayan (Vats), Lopamudra ( Lops) etc.

Gender Confusion

Bong names are extremely gender sensitive. Male and female names are strictly different irrespective of their meaning and generally differentiated while spelling and pronouncing it correctly. For the uninitiated Sudipto (M) and Sudipta (F) makes huge difference, same for Aparajito (M) and Aparajita (F). Some names might be treated as feminine in other parts of the country, but bong’s follow strict traditional naming customs. Thus ‘Suman’  ( meaning Flower and thus named to girls in North India) is a masculine name for Bongs and Sumana is the feminine counterpart ! A bengali girl will never be called ‘Kamal’ but ‘Kamala’ with an aa at the end. I don’t blame Indians from other states who fails to capture the subtle difference in pronounciation of Rajarshi (M) and Rajyashri(F) and equate it with Rajshree (F). It’s unfair  but unavoidable.

Contraditory Names

Before ending, just thought of clarifying of some common errors in understanding few names. Arani is a masculine name and Rani is a feminine one. But that doesn’t mean Arani is opposite of Rani. Opposite to Rani would be Raja. Same concept is applicable to Bani and Abani, Shani and Ashani, Beer and Abeer etc etc.

So next time someone says – whats in a name ? A lot actually, if it’s Bong.


1. Writer's Block - Monday, 1 June, 2009

There’s one name that is very common in the Hindi heartland and its variations can be found in the Bong world as well – Amit. Thats the name of my brother, and is so common that there were 7 guys of this name in my high school batch. We used to differentiate among them by their surnames but found that almost all teachers used to get confused with them. In fact whenever they took our attendance, all of them answered together!

There are several other common names – Gaurav, Ajay, Abhishek just to name a few. Some female common names – Neha, Sneha, Deepika. The list is big, if not endless!
~uh~: Amit….yes ! Very true. Amit was a very common name a generation before us, may be it had something to do with Amitabh Bachchan.
LOL @ Neha. If you have seen the movie 99, there’s a mention that Delhi girls are either named Puja or Neha !
Similarly Gaurav and Rahul are applicable for guys.
Good observations WB 🙂

2. biswa prasun - Monday, 1 June, 2009

This is a good one. Ray was so well known as Manik da that Richard Attenborough used to say “Why don’t people call you Manikda Ray” ?

You missed Rina di (aparna Sen ). And Tupur Tapur are Chatterjee not Chakroborty.

~uh~: Oh yes, my bad I missed Manikda. Many thanks to you, I have added it to the post.
I was not aware of Aparna Sen’s nickname.
Tapur-Tupur corrected and picture added 🙂
Valuable comment. I would love to get your feedback on my other posts too.

3. Rofl Indian - Tuesday, 2 June, 2009

Fascinating! *Stands up and claps in ovation*
This was something you were ruminating on for quite a long time. The waiting was worth it 🙂

One particular aspect about some bong names is their inordinate length. I remember a guy named Nityoranjan Dutta Roychowdhury scratching about in vain trying to accommodate his name within the stipulated 24 boxes in a particular form. The poor guy had to drop the exam!

Lol @ Dhritidipa. Kallolini is another such name. In one such instance, a certain Kalloloni Didi ultimately became famous as Colony-di!

Great stuff!
~uh~: You are correct about long names. I missed to mention one true story on this.
While i was changing my name on Madhyamik form, my friend Nilanjan changed his father’s name from ‘Jatindranath’ to ‘Jatin’ because he was lazy of filling up those boxes. His form, after first scrutiny at school was duly rejected and he had to fill up the boxes finally 🙂

My late Grandpa was named Annadaprasad. His friends, seniors and colleagues had difficulties calling him Anna-da, Annada-da or Annada-dada as nothing sounded right. However many people conveniently changed his name to Anandaprasad, but surprisingly the local post office never missed a single letter addressed to him !

4. eye-in-sty-in - Tuesday, 2 June, 2009

clap clap! Insightful… Next time I meet a Bengali, I’ll think of this post and try to remember 🙂
~uh~: Next time you meet a Bengali insist to learn how his/ her name should be pronounced and spelled. You will be one-up 😉

5. Vee - Tuesday, 2 June, 2009

Whoa, this was an amazing read… I knew few of things like Bhalo Naam and Daak Naam.

Rani/Arani thingy reminds me of Asin’s name.. her name indeed was kept as opposite of Sin… Damn Weird.. I don’t even like that name.. I know it was out of context as she is not bong.. but had to say it.:)
~uh~: Glad you observed the finer details 🙂
I dislike Asin too, the name and the character both.
We have a colleague at office with a surname Sen, we call her Insane 😉
Btw, did you notice most successful bong ladies in films are necessarily Sen ? Suchitra-Moonmoon- Riya-Raima, Aparna-Konkona, Nandana, Rimi, Sushmita proves the rule and Bipasha, Udita – the exceptions 🙂

Rofl Indian - Tuesday, 2 June, 2009

Has it anything to do with ‘sensational’ or ‘sensuality’? Just wondering….

6. witsnnuts - Tuesday, 2 June, 2009

“It is also important to understand that the number of nicknames one bong baby has, is directly proportional to the number of relatives and neighbours its family keep good terms with.”

lol .. its very true, happens in most of the cultures and languages across India.

where do you get the patience to write such a lengthy yet coherent post ? It is really amazing.
~uh~: I am actually ‘sentenced’ to increase my ‘patience’ 🙂
Welcome to AEIOU.

7. abhisheksardar - Tuesday, 2 June, 2009

your real name joy?? or joydeep perhaps?

Nice sort of exhaustive info on bong names. Couldn’t agree more.
~uh~: Intelligent guess, you are close 🙂
Thanks for the comment.

8. couchpapaya - Wednesday, 3 June, 2009

ah our very own gogol!! 🙂

my husband actually is the only bong i know so far without a dak naam … at home he’s called diff things only by his parents and sis but outside – even close relatives & everyone else call him by his bhalo naam. it gets confusing since people keep trying to ask him his bhalo naam …

loved reading this!!
~uh~: Bish, I always figured you had a bong connection, glad to know it’s through the ‘Resident Evil’….;-)
For elder siblings is elder its always Chhorda/di, borda/di or just dada/didi. In case of younger siblings there’s scope of some creativity. It’s unjust for yous bh’s relative to call him by bhalo naam. Incongruity !

9. Vee - Wednesday, 3 June, 2009

Oh yes, That ‘Sen’ thingy is so obvious… But I did not Udita (Goswami) was bong. … or u r talking of some other Udita..

I hate Asin too.. more than you… cuz I hate her in ADs too.. hate her whatever she does..

~uh~: Udita was born on Assam, but I have read in a Bong magazine somewhere she has a Bengali parentage. She is listed as a Bong in wiki list of Bengalis.
Also note that Saif Ali Khan, Abhisake Bachchan, Lisa ray, Hritik Roshan are all considered half-bong for their parentage.
Some say John Abraham is also a bong (through girlfriend …lol)
You keep Asin for good. I don’t want.

10. darshan - Thursday, 4 June, 2009

What about names like Surajit, Bisvajit and Indrajit..very similar to Sikh names Surjeet, Vishwajeet and Inderjeet.

Aren’t they common ?
~uh~: Yup, they used to be common 30 years back. Only the pronunciation was like Suro-jeet, Biswa-jeet ( there’s a bong veteran actor) and Indraa-jeet.

11. sunil - Thursday, 4 June, 2009

So u don’t call yourself Roj, do you?
Great article, nice to see Tupur Tapur, ankhon ko thandak mill gayee. 🙂
Just two cents on names in metaphors.
Apart from the well known late-lateef, Raja Bhoj-Gangu Telli etc, even Tana Shahi(dictatorship) is based on canards spread about a nizam of hyderabad. 🙂
~uh~: Roj in Bangla means ‘Daily’.
The article was looking very dull so had to make it ‘presentable’ 🙂
Thanks for the bits on the idioms.

12. Abha - Thursday, 11 June, 2009

awesome stuff uh!!!! 🙂

bleddy brilliant!! and whats is the history behind lack of V sound? rather why are all Vs Bs in bengali?! 🙂

~uh~: “V” is present as “Bhi”. For example
Vision = Bhishon (pronounced like Ramayan’s Bibhishon)
Very = Bheri
Vat69= Bhat 69.
Similarly, there is no ‘Z’ (zed), its all jed. Like Jipper, Joo, Jylophone etc.
Bengali pronunciation is subject matter of another post, well catered by our Jaipuri quack 😉

13. Raghupati Rajaram - Saturday, 13 June, 2009

There are 4 idioms listed

Among famous gender confusion would be Jyoti (Basu)
~uh~: Not sure if the 4th one can be treated as idiom :D, it’s more of a college slang.
Jyoti is classical example. Thanks !

Raghupati Rajaram - Saturday, 13 June, 2009

That’s right: We heard the phrase so many times, thought that it has become an universal idiom
What about- rakhe Hari, maare ke?
~uh~: That remind me of ‘Haridas Pal’, the name given to degrade someone, though the name sounds quite nice.

aparna mudi - Tuesday, 8 February, 2011

Rakhe ‘hari’ mare ke ‘s hari is god… as in krishna… and amazing post

14. Baby name meaning and origin for Gola - Friday, 19 June, 2009

[…] Naamsutra: History and Culture of Bong Names […]

15. rahul - Tuesday, 7 July, 2009

hi – got directed to your blog from greatbong’s. good article – as an “expat” bong living in gurgaon, really loved some of the instances where the jats screw up the well thought out classical bong names….

btw – is your real name X ? and the bollywood references are [X] and [X] ??
~uh~: GB’s article was great as usual. Thanks for leaving a comment here.
I have edited the comment but your guess was perfect 🙂

16. Anushree - Monday, 3 August, 2009

Brilliant!!! My name has been twisted many a times as well..Annushree(the Punju Delhiites’ best effort), Onoshree(thanks so much for trying, i tell them!)..and how they try to link me with Tanushree”what’s with your makeup” Dutta!!

Rahul and Priyanka became popular with the 90s kids(the result of Fam Planning initiative that made families restrict themselves to a son and a daughter..)

Del has also played a major role in converting our laltu Prodeeps to sadda Pardeepa..

why is it that whenever this adjective(Laltu) is used, the face of an “aloobhate” Bong appears from nowhere..:D

Observation. Thot you also talked about a certain Mr. Khan and Mr. Dutt..:)
~uh~: Am sure you must have been pissed by Annu-shi-ri, a typical delhi deconstruction. heard the word ‘laltu’ and ‘aloobhate’ in non-food context, after so long……
You cracked it right, why don’t you give your blog link if you have one ?

17. Anushree - Monday, 3 August, 2009

…oh and how could we forget the “China Kakimas”, “German Jethus”, Japan Dadus”, Naeplas(derivative of Nepal, reserved for domestic helps), “Bhutan Kakas”..who hv always intrigued us…..
~uh~: Ah….this part is untouched so far….

18. Anushree - Monday, 3 August, 2009

..I can actually see a short story coming out of your “HOW”!! Brilliant Work, uh!! Not started blogging yet..on FB tho!

19. Raj - Wednesday, 6 January, 2010

Hello ~Uh~,

Can you e-mail me with your e-mail. I’d like to ask you a question.

20. mirnalini - Wednesday, 13 January, 2010

u wanna know what a bengali name becomes when u come to south india..MRINALINI/MRUNALNI it should be…but my super cool dad named /misspelled mine as MIRNALINI…bah….assassination at its bestest…

21. Jitu - Wednesday, 17 February, 2010

This is probably not directly related to this post but there are some very embarassing surnames in maharashtra, Chodankar and Chodnekar being excellent examples (specially when the person is being introduced to a north indian)….
I had a few friends with these last names who made it a point to mention only their names or and one who would pronounce his last names with a ‘sh’ instead of a ‘ch’ 🙂

yeshwanti - Monday, 12 August, 2013

Chodan means chudamani a name of a dense forest region in goa, it has ancient religious history, related to Krishna and mother Deviki. It is not what they think. They are not aware of the history and only good at mocking. Any name or word which has good meaning in one language may have bad meaning in some other language. Word like chot is considered bad meaning in konkan. But when we speak HIndi we dont see it in that way. we use that word in hindi with the meaning in hindi only. That is the difference between the community and their way of thinking.

yeshwanti - Monday, 12 August, 2013

Actually they dont know how to say the letters. it is not D in Dawa, it is D in Dafali and not N in Naak. it is N in Baan (Arrow) so it is totally different pronounciation and different from what their thinking is. But they dont and they won’t care to say it rightly. For eg. Station they say Isstation, for Stree they say Isstree. Vaishak they say Baishak, for Prakash they say Parkas may such words are their. such is thier problem.

22. Dora - Thursday, 5 January, 2012

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23. Franklin Winfrey - Monday, 6 February, 2012

Appreciate you sharing, great blog post.Much thanks again. Will read on…

24. Alden Matherly - Monday, 27 February, 2012

Appreciate you sharing, great article.Thanks Again. Want more.

25. Aldo Feldmann - Monday, 27 February, 2012

This is one awesome post.Really looking forward to read more. Really Great.

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