About the Book
'What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.'
So said William Shakespeare. However, names very often can be the gateway to the culture, history and social characteristics of peoples. And, the scope of their analyses span a vast variety of areas such as linguistics, history, archaeology, folklore, social anthropology and literature. This book on Indian names consists of twenty brilliant pieces, contributed by academicians from leading universities and institutes in the country besides three American universities-New York, Texas and California. Personal names, nicknames, surnames, pen names and place names covered in here represent almost every language family flourishing in the subcontinent.
About the Author
Raja Ram Mehrotra is a professor of English at Banaras Hindu University. He has also been a member of the Royal Society of Literature, United Kingdom, fellow of the Institute of Linguistics, London, visiting fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla and pro- vice chancellor of the North Eastern Hill University, Shillong.
This book finally appears with a long history behind it. Permit me to say something of its genesis.
Some years ago, I conceived of a Series of volumes on onomastics around the world and I interested a New York publisher in the idea of individual volumes on names in the United States, Germany, India and other countries as well as on general topic such as literary onomastics, toponymics, and so on.
The series was planned by myself as general editor and a number of editors of specific volumes were enlisted, Publication contract were signed. The Library of Names as the project was called, seemed to be off to a promising start.
To be brief, we hit snags. One major problem was that scholars who wished to edit individual volumes tended to outline their plans, even suggest and negotiate table of contents, but then wait until some other volumes in the series appeared so that they could be the more certain that their volumes, when completed, would be published promptly as part of the successful , ongoing series. No editors really wanted to produce the first volumes in the series, to break new ground.
I was able to get a couple of volumes completed by their editors largely because the material of which the books, anthologies, wee to be constructed, were already in print; it required only selected and arrangement. From a large number of articles which had already appeared in literary onomastic studies a journal which annually printed paper read at the Conference on Literate Onomastics (founded by Professor Grace Alvarez- Altman of the State University of New York College at Brockport), it was possible for her and colleague to easily assemble a manuscript on a wide variety of the applications of the study of names to literature linguistics, another manuscript was put together by A.Ross Eckler, editor of the Journal Word Ways. But to these two offering it appeared impossible to get from other editors planned volumes such as that designed to collect significant historical articles on names study in German or a volume of new, commissioned pieces along with previously published work on toponyms in French Canada, and so on.
The Library of Names project from another publisher (University Press of America) and so did Eckler’s Names and Games. To these was added an anthology of Professor Kelsie B. Harder’s Choice of the Best articles that had apperared in the journal of The American Names Society, Names. This last deliberately omitted any article of mine, for I was planning to collect whatever I thought was worthy of republication from the long list of my own writings on names over the years, in an anthology I myself would assemble. That still has not been done.
I went on to publish a great deal more on memes in such journals as Literary Onomastic Studies, Word Ways, Names, and other scholarly journals here and abroad and to write such books as the general survey of all aspects of onomastics for a popular was afraid that most books designed for the Library of Names would never see the light of day, like so many ambitious projects in scholarly publishing.
The I heard from Professor R.R. Mehrotra in India. His book was, after six or seven years, completed, It was not simply a cut-and-paste job using previously Published materials but a varied and well-thought out collection of specially written, specialist articles on names in the Indian subcontinent. Would I consider it for publication in the series?
The Library of Names, I regretfully had to inform him, was a dead idea. I was sadder than ever about that fact as I read the complete manuscript he sent to me and realized how useful and unique a collection of readable and reliable articles it contained. I wrote to say that I was certain that the manuscript would be welcomed by a publisher in India, on its own what’s in a Name?, if he would publish the manuscript in America. Soon after, I had to report my publisher’s reaction here: the subject would form a crucial part of multi-volume, rather encyclopedic series on names and naming worldwide but, as a single volume, it was too specialized for his catalogue.
And that is where matters stood until in mid-September 1992, recently returned from doing some research in England, I found on my desk a letter from Professor Mehrotra which began: “I am happy to inform you that I have been able to find a publisher in Delhi for my work, Book of Indian Names.”
Names are, by common consent, the repository of culture, More than mere identifying labels, they embody traditional values, religious beliefs and social customs of a people besides serving as a vehicle of their expectations and aspirations. They have not only a functional value but also a symbolic significance.
India is particularly rich in names. It is difficult to find else- where a comparable treasure in terms of variety , creativity and ingenuity. Names in India may be said to have features which they share with all other communities, some other communities and no other communities . These are both universal and unique. Flora and fauna , which serve universally as a ready reservoir of names, have been a perennial source form which names are derived in India. Religion, likewise, has been a popular names bank in most part of the world down the ages. The resemblance between Greek ‘Herodotus’ and Sanskrit ‘ Hardatta’ in ancient India is more than a mere coincidence. English is spoken in curious personal names as Shoestring Lipstick, Toilet, Latrine, Between and Thanks You Which are discernible among the uneducated Khasis of North-East India, Presumably because of glamour associated with English words. Moreover, the common Biblical names Mathew and Mary are indigenized by Indian Christians as Mathai and Mariakuttui respectively.
The Present book aims at offering in a single volume, description and analysis of personal names in (a) twelve languages spoken in North , South , West and East India; (b) settings , both tribal-non-tribal, urban-ruatl, educated-uneducated; and (c) con-texts, Literary and non-Literary, religious and secular. The types of names discussed are first names, second names, surnames, nicknames, pen-names and finally, name-avoidance systems. Sources from which names are derived are very many , including some exciting and amusing incidents and anecdotes. Approaches to the study of names are linguistic, sociological, anthropological, psychological and historical. In linguistic parlance the Principal and all- pervading characteristic of both , the subject and the volume.
Several studies included in this volume deal with elaborate injunctions and ritualistic practices often known as ‘names-giving ceremonies.’ Among Ao Nagas, for instance, a hole is made in the ear lobe of a baby by her grandfather with the help of a forces of tradition may be seen joining hands and making adjustment with the forces of modernity. The personal name Anetdangba , which to a primitive tribal meant “hunter of two heads”, signifies to a modern man “recipient of two awards or university degrees.”
Among the twenty studies included in this volume, three are reprints of the articles published earlier and are included in this collection with the kind permission of their authors/publishers. The editor owes an apology to the contributors for the inordinate delay in bringing out this volumes on account of certain unforeseen circumstances. If the work is found wanting in regard to a uniform level of scholarly sophistication, this seemed unavoidable owing to (a) the vastness of the canvas stretching from Kashmir to the Andamans and Gujarat to Nagaland, and (b) the diversity of academic pursuits of the contributors. The work, however, reveals unmistakably and with considerable authenticity, the kaleidoscopic picture of names in India ageist the backdrop of culture and society.
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