I had a number of names when I was small. My dad had several teasing nicknames for me at various stages of my childhood. My sister had her own name for her baby sister. My mother called me by a name that seemed to me to be the most wonderful sound in the word, and I didn’t – and still don’t – like anyone else using it. Relatives outside immediate family, family friends and the like had another name for me – and their own interpretations of it.
It may be due to my myriad names, maybe due to other as yet unexplained reasons, that I took a long time accepting myself as Unmana. I remember staring at the name on my school notebook and repeating it in my mind, trying to realise that it meant me.
I remember being near the end of every queue, because my school believed in organising alphabetically. I remember that strangers, on first getting introduced to me, often asked what my name meant, or commented that it was unusual or beautiful. It did not mean much to me then except some probing from near strangers that my painfully shy self would gladly have avoided.
It was perhaps strange, then, that as I grew up, I became more attached to my name. You might say it grew on me. I resented being called by an abbreviation or nickname – something I had never minded when I was younger. I resented new acquaintances wanting to call me by one of the names relatives knew me by. As I grew up, my name and I seemed more a part of each other.
It helped, I suppose, that it’s an uncommon name; that I never had to call anyone else by it. A practical benefit of this is that I can usually get my desired username on any website or email service.
I still fumble when people ask me what my name means. Because it’s difficult to explain, and much of it gets lost in translation. Because it reminds me of my dad’s motives in naming me so, the prime one being that it rhymed with my sister’s name.
Perversely, I feel glad when someone who knows what it means compliments me on it. Even though some of them end up singing, “Unmona, mone mathu…” a popular song that appeared when I was in college. (Yes, I have heard it a hundred times, and never in the original.) The depiction of the word that I preferred was in an older song that I have regrettably forgotten.
What inspired this diatribe? That one person I do not even know has decided to name his daughter (if his unborn child is female) after me.
Congratulations, Rupam. I hope little Unmana - or her brother - will grow up to be the pride of your soul and the joy of your life.