Sunday, February 05, 2006

Every Thomas, Richard and Harprathap Singh

I wasn’t warned or educated about this. That book 'Living in the U.S.A.- A handbook for Indian Students' handed out generously at the US consulate had no mention of this strange phenomenon that plagues this country. Orientation sessions conducted in the campus before we could embark on the Americans, talked about ‘kallu’ not being a politically correct word for African Americans, but no… we weren’t told about this. Maybe I was supposed to know- just like that.

Robert Stafford was to be my professor. My first day in the campus, fresh off the boat, I looked all over for him in my department…searched every corner of the campus. When I was convinced that I walked into another University by mistake (possibility of that happening was high considering my past), someone said they could lead me to this elusive guy in question. I saw the nameplate. No no, he is not that guy! I have met him before. He just shares Robert Stafford’s last name. You think this Bob is his brother?

Right there I was introduced to the American nomenclature system never to recover. Bob and Robert are the same entity? And everyone must take it for granted? Nick names are official names here? Just like Bill Clinton is actually William Clinton and Jim Morrison is James Morrison? And what? Dick is Richard? Why?

Seriously, I do not appreciate such sense of humor. Why take pains to morph a perfect name to mean a male genitalia? Me wondered if I should call Office assistant Pamela, Pussy, to prove that I got the picture.

It’s a learning process. You can’t get it all down in one sitting. I can see the American parents going, ‘Since we can’t decide on the right name, let’s name her Elizabeth. Now she can choose from eleven names- Beth, Bess, Bessie, Betsy, Betty, Bette, Eliza, Lisa, Liza, Liz or even decide to keep the actual name. Halleluiah.’ Actually I feel that comprised of 50% of the American girl names right there. Yeah, it’s like playing that game- make as many words as you can from this long word.

Talking of names and games, ever tried playing the game where you think of an important person, give out a clue (initials) and answer 5 yes-or-no questions for the other team to guess the right answer?
The opposition will never win if you think of Dick Cheney and call out RC. Throw them completely off track.

Imagine if Mahmohan was called Twinkle at home (with these Punjabis anything is possible). He would be Twinkle Singh and that would not be a cool name for a Prime Minister. To make matters more confusing, my friend Harry could be Henry, Harprathap Singh, Hariharasubbramani Iyer or Xiuxiu Soong Ching-ling.


?! said...

Twinkle for the girls. The mundas are more commonly called Happy.

Harjit/Harjinder/Harpreet/har ghar mein ek ==> Happy.

A quick roundup of my own immediate surroundings yields Chitti, Jilli, and a couple of Chantis, all unrelated to original names. Apart from the usual North Indian crowd of Sonu/Monu/Bunty etc , again all unrelated to original names.

alpha said...

did i mention, my friend harry who is actually harprathap is actually twinkle? yeah, its different in the us, the nick names make it to the school records and they introduce themselves as Dick.

Zoheb said...

James Jim hotaa hai, ee humkaa aaj pataa chalaa. Aur Pamela ko mera hai bolnaa.

dumbs said...

Bob = Robert....been there...felt that..and have complained

alpha said...

zo babuva: Ee humka jaanath naahee ki ee postva se logan ko edukason bhi mil sakath hai!

James- Jim
Robert- Rob, Bob
Richard- Dick, Rich
Henry- Harry
Jack- John

Obvious ones-
William- Will, Bill
Matthew- Matt
Jeffrey- Jeff
Daniel- Dan
Joshua- Josh

alpha said...

dumbs: I feel for ya!

anantha said...

And keeping with the theme of the day, once there was Richard (Dick) Butkus, one of da Bears...

FunnyCide said...

hah!! had a good laugh. :D

even funnier are our indian names being chopped/morphed inappropriately to make it easy for the american tongue.
pat: Parthasarathy
bob: Sai Baba
sean: Srinivas
mark-andy: Markandeyulu
rammy: Ramasubramanian
and the list goes on...

Ambimama said...

I had lot of Punjabi friends (India and Pakistan) in Dubai. They used to call me Nathuji (Vaidya Nathan is my name). I learnt a little Punjabi. Very musical language - 'Gal Sun' 'Tusi Das', 'Khee Gal Hai'. They say there is a difference in Lahori Punjabi and AMritsar Punjabi. And I saw in KBC that Punjabi is the widely spoken language in Pakistan not Urdu or Pashtu. They had so much difficulty in learning Tamil. Only two words they could master - 'Appadiya' ? (meaning - Oh Is that so?) and 'Poda' (Go!!)

ambimama at

B o o said...

Alph, you left the most confusing one. Henry - Hank. I read a book once thinking they were 2 different characters! :)

Anonymous said...

Para 5 of myour post, Becky is short for Rebecca. Betty is probably what you meant.

prasad from dubai said...

hmm ...

alpha = alpana? .. alia pherosa? .. ali phatima? .. all phamous (famous)? .. alipuram harini??? ..


alpha said...

funnycide: thanks..i'll be the day when these names get standardised.

ambimama: thanks for that education praji!

anon: changed..thanks. Got more info from

dubai: keep wondering...its alphanso kapoor.

alpha said...

boo: that's funny indeed... thanks..i wasn't aware..see, i am still learning this nonsense.

alpha said...

anti: yeah! but kinky meaninged names was not the topic..but anything to humor you kanna.

anantha said...

Alpha: To quote Homer Simpson.. DOH!!!! Richard Butkus = Dick Butkus. Dick Butkus..Dick Butkus.. get it? :p

anantha said...

Alpha: Better tell Dubai your name. Otherwise he's gonna start calling you Alphonsa and ppl are gonna think that the awful looking, romancing the comedian, my-every other-movie-is-a-Mallu-skin-flick, actress is actually you!

alpha said...

anti: sweat not, i got it the first time itself....looks like you didn't get it..this post is not about kinky names. My friend Alekya Bhatt will have a problem with that.

alphonsa different from alphanso. yeah dubai is kinda strange..want to let him know that theer is no other Dubai coming to my blog, so he can drop the Prasad from the name.

dubai prasad said...

while working in chicago, i had 3 desi colleagues, 2 of them gujju. there was a jovial guy in the office called joe. his real name was graham. once after office, 4 of us desis were in a bar when joe came in. one of the gujjus turns to other and says, "jo jo joe" (see, see, joe there). it sounded so funny, we all roared with lafter. joe heard and saw us and came to join us. we told him the cause of lafter .. and he says, "actually that's me. my full name is joseph graham george. joe is a short nickname for graham and also for joseph and also for george" .. so he was "joe joe joe"!

btw, by another funny but incredible incidence there, i became "pat" .. that nickname flew with me to dubai too.

d.n.a. said...

"joe joe joe" is like "the los angeles angels anaheim", which is literally
"the the angels angels of anaheim". Dubai, quite funny that.

Maddie said...

There was this doozy who used to come to my previous office. His name was Shankar. *I don't have a chest, so I wear baggy shirts, I don't have an ass, so my pants look like they're gonna fall off any moment* kind. He came over and introduced himself as Shanks. I called him Shankar to his face. Never Shanks. And Shanks with no Flanks behind his back :P.

chakri said...


somebody asked the yahoo guys the same question recently.

basically, no one has a clue as to how these nicknames started.

Chakri said...

another one, now you know that I have too much time on my hands. :-)

VC said...

true-to-form post alphs!
just be thankful you've never had to deal with a Mike Hunt or a Hugh Jass! you'd be laughing your jass off!:)

dubai said...

must share another hilarious bit. it was our first day of the new semester and the 1st class of the course, at the university i attended in the USA. in walks a chinese professor. we had heard about his intelligence and acrid sense of humor.

he introduced himself, "i am heinze yu .. dr heinze chiang yu". then with a short pause and a mischievous grin he says, "you may call me prof yu or dr yu or dr heinze .. but never ever dare call me he yu (hey you) even if you like shortening my name!" ...

loud burst of lafter in the class

alpha said...

dubai: very funny. any more? you've got yourself a stand-up gig going on here. thanks for entertaining the folks.

chakri: yes, looks like i am not the first to have a problem with this.

maddie: at least you were lucky..last time when I called a guy "krishnan" (after spewing sarcasm of course) after he introduced himself as kris, I made a laughing stock of myself. The poor guy was really named Kris by his very own parents. Next time a shanks come by, he will be known as shanks. such risk taking is haanikarak to mental health.

vc: thanks..a compliment from you is quite rare..*runs fingers on it fondly*

:..M..: said...

Hehe. That was a riot! :)

VC said...

hey, i just said true-to-form! doesn't necessarily mean good form. ;)

anantha said...

Alpha: This is to inform you that a supari has been taken in your name. Please make arrangements for any circumstances that may arise from the said event.

alpha said...

m: thanksiee!

vc: darn..knew there had to be a catch. removed fingers.

anti: supari? u want me to make arrangements for a dentist to check stained teeth?

aman said...

Great post, but I can't help but wonder - have you met any IITans? If so, have you paid attention to what their friends call them? Of course, there it's not just male genitalia but female as well, the parts of which are liberally sprinkled throughout, whether or not the actual name resembles it in any form.
One only feels sorry for the poor parents who unknowingly named their child Srikanth, Mukund, etc not knowing the fate that was awaiting them in school/college.

Kupa Manduka said...

Great post!

Talking of Richards and what they are called, did you notice the name for the party that the Karunakaran splinter group in Kerala created?

It is called DIC(K)


Dubai said...

atk (alphanso tamil kapoor) : ok, since u asked. we desis had fun with reverse name change too - desification !

for us, dr harold (harry) stag was "hari haran", dr pearl buck was "moti haran" (hindi haran or hiran for deer, stag or buck), prof natalie (nat) warwick was "natwarlal", prof chad porter was "chandu hamaal", dr venus rights was "chandani chawk".

the most popular were : prof edward (ted) cotts = "palang tod" and barbara bush = "junglee ped" (ped in hindi for tree/bush).

then we also wondered : if short for charles (or charlie) was 'chuck' and for marlon (or marley) was 'muck', then why for fallon (or philis) is it "fay" .....

obnoxious ! i leave it at that.

Ravages said...

Phillips is Pip.

You know, old Enid Blyton books - the five find outers, the six satans, the seven screwballs, they had nicks for the names and thats were I found-outer that Dick was Richard and Bob was Robert and stuff like that.

I also met Freddy Algernon Trotterville there who will forever be FAT :)

On a different tangent - ever notice the similarity of some indian names to the characters of Mario Puzo
Santino could have been Santanam in India
Marcantonio is Markandeyan
Michel is Mugilan
Freddy could be Varadan
Morgan is murugan

alpha said...

aman: thanks. You wont believe it, but IIT nics was exactly what I wanted to write about sometime soon.

kups:thanks. now who can't notice a name like that.

dubai: that was hilarious..wonder why we didn't come up with such things for our profs. so much potential. my prof names didn't even need translation..Mang Lia.

ravages: Mario itself cud be Mariama

./w said...

Heh. I have an advisor whose last name is Hu. A constant pet peeve of mine is when someone asks me 'Who is your advisor?" and I answer it with a "Hu" and they go "Your advisor.., who is your advisor" and I retort with "Yes yes, Hu IS my advisor".


alpha said...

./w- Good to see you here mister. funny, this reminds me of that famous American joke "Who is in the First base". You can google to find out more abt it..but its kinda in the same grounds. When I came out of a meeting, someone asked me 'so You figured who is in the first base?' And I was like 'duh?'

sigh! so much to learn.

Ravages said...

Once upon a time, the chairman or some such of the BHEL was an AK PURI

alpha said...

ravages: whats wrong with that?

alpha said...

oooh..duh..bhel-puri..haha! age is catching up with me.