What’s in a name? Asked Shakespeare’s Juliet and so did the group of women who gathered one surprisingly sunny day in March for the China Inside Out writers’ conference in a grand baronial mansion overlooking the craggy facades of Arthur’s seat in Edinburgh.
The writers mostly of Chinese origin who now write chiefly in English had come from far and distant lands, some as far away as America, to spend a couple of days in search of the landscape for foreign writers.
Having prepared themselves for a workshop on poetry and fiction writings and discussions, they found the event inadvertently hijacked by an interesting question, the question! “What is your name and what does it mean to you?” So astounding was the emotional reaction to this elusive question that instead of a workshop it turned in to rather a productive therapy session.
It seems we are given a title when we are born. How little we think about this sacrament is peculiar and more interestingly how little we are involved in the choosing of that very title is not much pondered upon. How strange that ritual is, where one is named yet has no say in that very ceremony, especially when we are to carry the given name until the last breath.
There are great customs in some cultures. For instance in the Bengali tradition, a new born is given a good name and a pet name and subsequently the child at a mature age may decide for themselves which name they wish to use in the outside world there onwards.
Some choose a name for a new born as a gift to others. Some have a namesake. Some names are chosen for those who are no longer with us. It could be a paternal grandfather, a maternal aunt or a long gone relative keeping their memory alive.
I particularly did not like my name growing up. I did not pick it. Spent years thinking, “Why couldn’t I be called Sarah or Jane?” and as an adult, I still have an awkward relationship with it. Even now on the phone or upon introduction people mistake it for Margaret or Gladys, which sometimes is easier to go along with, albeit at the amusement of friends. Some people to their much embarrassment even forget it as quickly as they learn to pronounce it. However, having a name that is unique and different to everybody else’s is also appealing.
Though my name is not common, I am lucky in that I was named after a great heroin, an actor who is still remembered for her contribution to Indian cinema and society. Not only was she revered in the film industry she is world renowned for her love and kindness to all people. Having worked tirelessly for humane causes she became the first patron of the Spastics society of India and headed the Ajanta Arts cultural group who performed for soldiers in the Indio-Pakistani war.
So though some may think my name is weird and as I don’t yet have a nickname to fall back on, (think the closest anyone ever came was Dr Who’s Tardis) and even though no one may ever write poetry about a girl called Nargis (derived from the Greek Narcissus), just does not rhyme with anything you see, try it! I am proud to share my name with someone who is still winning accolades decades after her death. I guess it is not so bad having a weird name after all.