Your good name, pliss?

The title of this post is a very common phrase in Indian English. Beyond the obvious question, "What is your name?" is the subtler, more indigenous cultural question. While the english version is a direct translation of the hindi phrase "aapka shubh naam kya hai?", amongst Indians, your full name can convey your history, your caste, your mother tongue, your regional ethnicity, your religion, your dietary restrictions and in some communities, your paternal lineage.

While to some degree, globally, names convey your origins, as in the melting pot that is the United States, you can usually hazard a guess that a Park or a Lee is highly likely to be Korean, or a Zhang or Zhou from mainland China versus the Tan or Cheah from Malaysia and Singapore, the Indian name contains encyclopaedic knowledge.

Inspired by my recent exposure to my genealogy, here’s what I found out about my nomenclatural heritage; My father’s name is Indra Bhan Gupta. First, the socio cultural analysis of what this name conveys to other indians, then in the next post, I’ll touch upon the deeper Sanskrit meanings.

Gupta, denotes to the querent that I am a bania. He or she will very likely guess from my hindi that I’m a UP bania. This implies that my mother tongue is Hindi, I’m from a "pure" vegetarian family – no garlic or onions – and my caste is Vaishya, or the merchant caste. If they ask what kind of Gupta, my father’s gotra is Mathur Vaishya, which in turn will convey that my family originates from district Agra, around Mathura. It tells them that I am a hindu. And the odds of my family being businessmen, merchants and traders are high.

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