9 September 2007

What's in a name

Well, as some of you would have noticed, facebook has decided to throw me out. I contacted customer care, and they told me that I had violated their terms of use by not revealing my surname.

This just completely threw me off. Now I am supposed to conjure up a surname just to get onto some social networking site? I just can't digest the fact that people refuse to believe that one can exist without a surname. I've existed for 22 years. And it's been great.

Let me tell you the story behind my lack of surname. An ancestor was adopted. No one knows who his biological parents really were. So, naturally, he assumed the surname of his adopted family. But he grew up so diametrically different from the rest of the family that he changed his surname from Singh to Kumar. His son, however reasoned 'if not Singh, then why Kumar?' And there the surname was dropped. Three generations we've lived without a surname. Our passports, certificates, driver's licences, et al have only the single name.

But there's more to it than that. For I ask you, what is the purpose of a surname? Through the ages, surnames have had roughly the following uses. They may tell you the place from where your ancestors originated. Multani, for example. Or they could just tell you the name of one of your ancestors. Pietersen being a case in point. Or they could tell you the occupation of one of your ancestors. Kumhar. Or, at a very basic level, your surname will identify your religion, and in some cases your caste. It may also identify you with a certain community, like the Baniyas or the Marwaris.

The trouble with all these is that you get tagged. Stereotyped even. Because people tend to have preconceived notions about most of the groups that surnames tend to identify you with. My point is simply this. The way people view me should not depend upon where I come from, what my father's name is, whether one of my ancestors was a farmer or a potter or a goldsmith, or whether I am a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Brahmin or Kshatriya. I want people to know me for the person I am. For what I do. A person is defined by his actions, not his surname.

So, by not having a surname, I'm saying to the world: come, interact with me and judge me for the person I am. I will not behave in a certain way because my ancestors belong to a certain place. I will behave the way I do because I chose to do so. Based uopn my beliefs which I have formed over 22 years of thinking. I'm also saying to the world: caste and religion have no place in a civilized society. They divide and cause destruction. They have no other function. How will being a brahmin make me act any different in today's day and age than if i was a khsatriya? And if it will make me act different, then it's wrong. Because all humans are born equal, and they have every right to live equally and take advantage of opportunities equally. I am a human, and any identity placed uopn me by a surname is purely extarnal and man made. It will not affect the way I behave, and therefore I have no need for it. I refuse to be defined by a label applied externally that I have done nothing to build. I will be identified by what I do.

And thats that.


  1. Makes perfect sense.
    n yea .. i agree with you about people having preconceived notions when it comes to surnames..which is rather silly in today's world..if u think about it!
    so i guess its kinda cool that you dont have one.. people cannot stereotype you even if they wanted to : )

  2. They did what??!!! I can't believe it! Damn...
    But its true what you say. You judge or rather form an opinion of anybody by his/her surname...

  3. hear hear!

    this reminds me of karana's monologue in rashmirathi, through dinkar's inimitable effusiveness!

  4. the world is absurd since we dont even get to choose our own names, and this is the pits! though you can always use some dummy name, sumthin very ridiculous, 'prof klunk' will do, and we'll know who you are. cheers!

  5. Of all your articles I read till now (5-6 that is), this one's my favorite. Well written! and I completely agree with what you say, a surname has little to no improtance in this day and age (unless it's a birla or bacchan ofcourse).

    But I would still want a surname. Maybe not if it was one so common like a kumar, sharma or a smith but a Shaunik i like. Why? simply because, in the future when I become successful and make a name for my self on a global scale (and believe me, I will), my surname would be the trophy or recognition for my whole family. It would be my tribute to my lineage and the generations ahead of me. So while my surname wont affect my acheiving my dreams, I still consider it as very important. then again, to each his own.

    As far as your getting kicked out of facebook. THATS REALLY FUNNY!!! Hahaha! I'm sorry if I'm being rude but i just can help it. kicked out due to name issues. Sheesh! what has the world come to? :)

  6. I agree wif JShaun! I am remembered coz I have a surname which not many have. Im dead sure if 10 years down the line I make headlines, my primary school teachers would get up and say: This is the guy we taught!

    On the contrary, Fb throwin u off for not havin a surname! wel fb is goin mad.. They issued me a notification that I m doing too much of profile hopping and if i continue that, they wud throw me off.. so just IGNORE fb! :P