AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
IN AN EARLIER PUBLICATION, I ARGUED THAT THE PROCESS OF GLOBALIZATION has the tendencies of both homogenization and intensification of social and cultural differences (Jayaraman). Some writers have argued that the latter feature of globalization is the direct result of the former tendency (Appadurai; Clifford; Featherstone; Robertson; Hall). On one hand, the tendency for homogenization is mainly due to cross-cultural fertilization over an extended period of time, but in certain situations and historical periods, it is the result of a dominant culture imposing its will on subordinate cultures and societies. On the other hand, the fear and actuality of homogenization drive cultures in opposition to it mainly to preserve their cultural and social identity. In this context, one of the important issues of interest at the grassroots level is what happens to individual identity as reflected in personal names and surnames. What are the social and cultural roots to personal names and surnames? To what extent do people continue to retain their personal identities under the influence of migration and globalization of culture, and to what extent are they willing to change their personal identities? The aim of this article is to analyze the cultural roots of Hindu personal names and surnames in the context of retaining personal identity in a globalized world. (1)
Social and cultural practices relating to naming customs in India are complex. To date, they have not been studied systematically, and the task is made more difficult by the diversity of cultural patterns that characterize the country. This cultural diversity is closely related to the differences in the religious, linguistic, regional, varna (traditional fourfold divisions), caste (jati), sect, and tribal backgrounds of the people. In other words, the diversity in the naming customs mirrors the general pluralism exhibited in the social and cultural patterns of the country. Although there is no one pattern in the naming customs, there are some broad, discernible features within each religious, regional, linguistic, and cultural group. The main purpose of this article is to provide a sociological account of these broad patterns of naming customs among the Hindus, who form the major religious group in India. Unlike the naming practices of the Muslims, those of the Sikhs and Jains have many similarities with the Hindu customs. For this reason, they too will be considered in this article.
Although this article deals mainly with naming practices in India, some of the patterns described here have wider applicability to the subcontinent as a whole, and by extension, to Indians living in other parts of the world. Therefore, there is a cross-cultural and comparative perspective to this work.
Patrilineal Tradition and Naming Customs
Traditionally, most Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists subscribe to the patrilineal principle of kinship, which means that property, office, and family name were all transmitted in the male line from father to son. Under this system, a girl retained her father's family name until she married, when she took her husband's name. Major exceptions to the patrilineal rule were the Nayars, a few other castes in Kerala, and a few tribal groups such as Khasi and Garo in Assam, who followed the matrilineal principle. In this latter system, a person (male or female) inherits the family name, office, and property of the mother and mother's brother, not the father.
Since India's independence, many changes have been introduced concerning the traditional rules of inheritance and succession. These have had a greater effect on the matrilineal system than on the patrilineal system, although the wife and the daughter have improved their property rights under the patrilineal joint family system. Generally, however, these legislative changes have not fundamentally altered the traditional naming customs even though some modifications are noticeable. These later changes will be examined later.
Significance of Names and the Naming Ceremony
In the Hindu tradition, a name not only reveals a person's self-identity, but also his or her cultural, sectarian, varna, and caste identities. Further, it is believed to signal one's spiritual worth not only in this world, but also in the next. For these reasons, the question "What's in a name?" is not to be taken lightly for a Hindu. In everyday life, Hindus give great significance to a name. In both southern and northern India, the first question to be asked when one person meets another is his or her name. For example, in Tamilnadu, the question posed is, "What's your name?" (ungal perro ennai), and this is followed by another question, "What's your native place?" (ungal poranda oor ennai). Similarly, in northern India, the question is, "What's your good name?" (apka shubha nam kya hai).
The naming ceremony of a child is an important event, and traditionally it is one of the major life cycle rituals for a Hindu. It is known in Sanskrit as the namakarna …