The monikers ‘Rajiv’ and ‘Sanjay’ were trending when I was born in the year 1959, at Kaithal in Haryana. These were the names of adolescent grandsons of India’s then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. My parents, swayed by the popular sentiment, quickly picked the name ‘Rajiv’ for me. A few years after I was born, my father even christened his newly acquired house as ‘Rajiv Kutir’ (Rajiv’s hut). Even though my grandfather grudged this modern name ‘Rajiv’, he kept quiet in order not to dampen the enthusiasm that my parents permeated at the birth of their first child.
In due course I was admitted to a primary school by my grandfather, who handled such chores in our household. Seizing the opportunity to finally have his choice, he registered my name in the school as Chandragupta modelled on the famous emperor Chandragupta Maurya of ancient India. My parents, deferential as they were, reconciled to the new name conferred by my grandfather. As I was only five to six years old, I remained oblivious to the transition from Rajiv to Chandragupta. I was only familiar with my nickname ‘Titu’ prior to the commencement of schooling.
Throughout the school phase, I had to frequently face moments of embarrassment when my classmates teased me as Emperor Chandragupta Maurya. Whenever I told my name to someone, pat will come the mocking question ‘Are you Emperor Chandragupta Maurya?’. The mocking became an albatross around my neck in the school. Fed up, I cleverly split Chandragupta to Chander Gupta at the time of filling up forms for matriculate examination. ‘Chander’ became the first name and ‘Gupta’ the surname, neatly matching with family surname ‘Gupta’.
Disappointingly the manoeuvring didn’t yield the desired outcome. Tweaking Chandragupta to Chander Gupta created additional confusion without completely freeing me from linkage to the sobriquet ‘Maurya’. ‘Chander’ sounded as half a name only. So, people would variously presume my name to be Chander Shekhar, Chander Prakash, Chander Mohan, Chander Bhan, etc. Moreover, ‘Chander’ was at that time used more as a middle name as in Ram Chander, Harish Chander, on the pattern of ‘Kumar’.
The thought that ‘Rajiv Gupta’ would have resonated much better always haunted me. I felt disconcerted that my parents were not assertive enough to overrule my grandfather who formally named me as Chandragupta in school. It’s ironical that we don’t have any say in choosing our names, which are fixed when we are too young to grasp the nuances.
The names which were in vogue during the previous generations are out of fashion now. My grandfather’s name ‘Dalip Chand’ or my father’s name ‘Lal Chand’ would hardly be used for babies of present generation. We don’t come across names like Vidya Devi, Shakuntala, Sulochana for girls or Girdhari Lal, Ishwar Chand, Dharam Pal for boys these days.
Shakespearean phrase ‘What’s in a name?’ is a source of solace to people with unpalatable names.