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Not too long back, names like Ilamaran, Ilavenil, Tamilchelvan, Tamilchelvi, Ezhilan and Ezhilarasi were common. Over time, Ramesh, Suresh, Raja and Rajesh took their place. But, today, Tamil names, including in villages, sound more and more esoteric and include complex Sanskrit terms.

Kannan’s job is delivering gas cylinders in Chinthamani of Villupuram district. Kannan has named his three children Jeevitha, Yoshintha and Anish. Kannan explains that for each of his children he would go to astrologers and ask them for guidance on what names would work best for them. The advice he would get would be on the starting letter of the alphabet for the name, and would be based on the horoscope of the child. For instance, for his boy, he was asked to give a name that would start with A.

Kannan would go to the nearby computer center and the operator would do a Google search for Tamil names and print out a list of options. Among them Kannan thought Anish sounded new-generation. Same was the case with his daughters’s names.

Googling “girl children names” in Tamil yields websites that promise modern names for girl children and modern Tamil names. The names those websites suggest are, for instance, Hashini, Januja, Pradakshini – none of them typical Tamil names.

Kannan would go to the nearby computer center and the operator would do a Google search for Tamil names and print out a list of options. Among them Kannan thought Anish sounded new-generation. Same was the case with his daughters’s names.

Searching for Tamil names yields Anusha, Anushree and so on. The websites are a bit anonymous and don’t have contact information. One of the websites is registered in Reykjavik, Iceland. These websites likely have good search engine optimization practices that have given them a good ranking on google search. And such google-aided websites, blind to the political and cultural significance of a place, are likely a significant driver behind Sanskrit names for children in Tamil Nadu.

Vetrichelvan who lives in Nannilam in Tiruvarur says his father gave his children Tamil names such as his name, Rathinam, Muthu and Ravanan. But his granddaughters are called Bhavana, Divya and so on. “The idea that has caught on is that such Sanskrit names are more contemporary and stylish,” he adds.

Murugan of Aruppukottai has named his son Santhosh. He explains that his son’s name refers to happiness, although in Tamil, the correct name for that would be Anandan. “I didn’t bother about questions such as whether it’s a Tamil name or Sanskrit,” he said.

Writer Jothi Narasimhan, who has written about the politics of names, says that when people knew only their mother tongue, they chose names in Tamil as the names corresponded with their identity. “The reason Tamil names have become rare is because of the dominance of Sanskrit,” he says.

One of the websites is registered in Reykjavik, Iceland. These websites likely have good search engine optimization practices that have given them a good ranking on google search. And such google-aided websites, blind to the political and cultural significance of a place, are likely a significant driver behind Sanskrit names for children in Tamil Nadu.

Narasimhan cites a dialogue from the recent movie, Karnan, that alludes to how changes in naming have a direct caste significance. In the movie, the oppressed sections are derisively asked if changing their names could make them the ruling classes. The Sanskrit names that underprivileged Tamil folk are giving to their children are a result of the caste-based notions of superiority and inferiority, he adds.

Vasuki, who lives in Mugalivakkam, Chennai, says that she was very keen on the name Kannamma for her daughter since she has a lot of regard for the poet Subramaniya Bharathi. But her friends and family told her Kannamma was too old-fashioned. “I imagined her being made fun of in college,” she says.

Vasuki therefore thought of a compromise. She wanted the letter, zha, in the name since that is the hallmark of Tamil. So, she came up with the name, Ponnezhil. To that Vasuki added the name, Oviya, which would be the name people can use to call her since Ponnezhil would be quite a mouthful. “But my family and I call my daughter Kannamma. Our neighbours also call her Kannamma,” says Vasuki.


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