Do you know the easiest way to flummox a Tamilian? Just ask him for his surname. And watch the fun, unfold. The usually voluble Kumars, Manis, Murthis and Swamys might yak knowledgeably about everything, including the cup size of Namitha, but when you shift focus to their surname, they might just blink as if they drank castor oil. That’s because unlike other South Indians, Tamilians don’t have a concept called ‘family name’.
Now before you jump on me, let me clarify, caste names don’t count as surnames. So if you’re an Iyer (derived from the Tamil word Ayya), Iyengar (meaning: one who has undergone the 5 purification rituals), Chettiar (one who collects) or Mudaliar (literal meaning – first ones), SORRY! You’re not in the same league as the Kapoors (descendants of the moon), Tatas (Gujju word for father) and Gandhis (sellers of perfumes).
Having a weighty appendage to your name always helps. A Reddy (village headman) might tempt people into thinking, you own Hyderabad! The euphonic Khanna (derived from the Punjabi word for sword) creates a regal aura, doesn’t it? And Agarwal (ones from Agroha, the ancient name for Hissar) gives an impression that you might crack the IIT-JEE, right? Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective bride. Whom would you rather marry – Anantha Oberoi or Anantha Krishnan? Finally, it all comes down to that. I am appalled that our ancestors didn’t think of these issues. Can’t blame them. They were probably too busy gulping kozhakattais and guzzling payasam!
No, seriously. Lack of a surname can hurt. Imagine if you were the grandson of Sivaji Ganesan. How are you to subtly proclaim to the world that you carry the genes of the great thespian? By refusing to leverage the brand equity of our forefathers, aren’t we wilfully committing a grave error? May be this is where we can learn from the Bachchans (means child-like). The Big B was never a surname. It was the nickname of Harivansh Rai Srivastava. Hari liked the sound of it. He smartly dropped Srivastava for Bachchan. And thanks to that. Today, Aby Baby is Abhishek Bachchan.