Do you like your name? Your given name. Not the abbreviation of it. Most names somehow end up abbreviated as the years pass. And when you have one like mine the possibilities are infinite.
I love my name. Geethanjali. There is a certain lyrical quality to it, a cadence. Geeethaaanjali. It means an offering of song. There is also a story behind it, in my life.
Geethanjali is a book of poetry written by Nobel Prize winning writer Rabindranath Tagore. It is the first gift my besotted father gave my Amma back when they first met in a small town in Kerala, 63 years ago. Theirs was a forbidden love. A Brahmin boy in love with a Catholic girl. It took eight years and much heartache before they said to their unrelenting families ‘Sod it. If you cannot see how deeply we love, how right we are for each other, then that’s your loss’. And so, out of a beautiful, rebellious love story and a book of poetry, came me. How could I not love my name?
A wake-up call name
Mind you, no one really calls me by my full name these days. Only my late father, in my dreams. He had a habit of whistling my name each morning as a wake-up call. Geethanjaliiiii...You could hear every letter, each syllable, clearly in his whistle. And here in Australia, the customer care officers from banks or telecoms offices who trip and fall over it in quite hilarious ways — Gggeeetunjuhli, Geetun, Jitaanjli — until I take pity and tell them ‘call me Anji’.
As a child I was called Anji. A derivation from Geethanjali. Also the name of a great aunt on my father’s side, Anji Paati.
In school my teachers used my given name. Convent schools demand such formality. And until I got to high school, so did my classmates. A matter of some angst for me back then, truth be told. Not that I hated my full name. But if they really liked me would they not take the liberty to shorten my name? Give me a nickname. A symbol of familiarity. A gift of friendship. But, despite my eagerness, I did not fit into any one group enough to warrant such friendship or familiarity. I was half Hindu half Christian. I was a Keralite living in Karnataka. I was a hybrid of all of those things. No clear definition. No single slot to fit into. Messy.
High school cures that a bit. Enough for me to get myself a special name. Geetu they called me. They still do. Age, life and wisdom have poured much affection and deep camaraderie into that name.
More than a ball game
College brought with it enduring friendships. And with it, alongside Anji, an accidental new name. Balls. Yep. Balls. Thanks to a very stylish gentleman who at an inter-college debate competition announced me as the winner while tripping over my name. Not my first name. But my surname. Bal. In his efforts for anglicised poshness, Bal came out as Balls. Geethanjali Balls. My friends chortled for days. The name stuck and I became Balls to them forever.
Later, when I moved overseas Anji was a boon. Geethanjali simply doesn’t roll off the western tongue. After a few months of having it mangled, I gave it up as a bad job. Geethanjali became Anji for good. Except in my passport and my forever learner’s licence. Mind you Anji too is apparently not easy. So I get Aenji, Anj, Anki (Yep Anki. Guess it’s ‘coz k sits next to j on the keyboard) Anjooli, Anyi (apparently in some parts j is pronounced as y). But each of these is said with courtesy, affection and friendship. So, I am okay with that. After all, what’s in a name?
— Geethanjali Kurian is a writer based in Sydney, Australia.