TODAY -

May I Have Two Names?

James Oinam *



Getting a new debit or credit card is exciting in more than one ways. On my debit card, I'm 'James Oinam Singh' and on my credit card, of the same bank, I'm 'J S Oinam'. So what is my surname, Oinam or Singh? And even learned people think I'm 'Oinam' and not 'James'.

May I have two names—'James Singh Oinam' (or if acceptable as 'James Khuman Oinam') for the outside world and 'Oinam James Khuman' as local or home name. It is not that such things are not done elsewhere. Chan Kong-sang is Chinese name of Jackie Chan. There are two ways to write traditional Chinese names in English. They are Pinyin and Wade-Giles systems.

For example, 'Mao Zedong' and 'Mao Tse-tung' are, respectively, Romanized names of the famous Chinese premier in Pinyin and Wade-Giles. Notice the surname or family name 'Mao' going before the personal name. Nowadays, some Chinese have settled outside China and adopted westernized names.

For example, in the name 'Mavis Yong' (someone I got acquainted with long time ago), the surname Yong is written after the personal name 'Mavis', which is quite a western personal name. These two trends are also in Manipuri names nowadays.

What will happen if Manipuri hardliners, of both kinds, are not ready to make some compromises with our names?

Both the traditional and currently adopted ways of naming someone in Manipur, in my opinion, have their pros and cons. For example, my middle name (which many often mistake as my surname) performs very little function other than identifying that I'm a man. Nowadays, perhaps it will tell you that I'm not a strict follower of Sanamahism.

Similarly, Devi, which is neither Miss or Mrs, performs very little function, other than identifying that someone called Leina Devi is a girl! And one cannot tell whether Sukham Zarina Devi was born into Sukham family or married into it.

In the traditional or old system of naming a person, marital status of women is identified.

For example, an unmarried girl may be called 'Khaidem Leishna Chanu', and upon marriage to a man of Narungbam family, she becomes 'Khaidem Ningol Narungbam Ongbi Leishna Leima'. (Chanu and Leima denoting Miss and Mrs, respectively.)

But I have already pointed above the problem of writing our surname first in the traditional system. Also, I have mentioned the trends in Chinese society which has been facing similar situation, and have come up with a 'solution'.

Many Chinese who don't want to drop their culture completely but at the same time are conscious or sympathetic of the problems others might face are calling themselves by two names. See how Mr Chan has transposed his surname so that people around the world know his surname/family name at once. If we Manipuris do similarly, we need not explain our names to others (outside Manipur).

Why not try for the best of the both worlds?

If I write my name as James Khuman Oinam, or simply James K. Oinam, the outsiders (mainland Indian as well outside India) will know my surname is 'Oinam'. Having a common surname Singh as my middle name, many people mistake Singh as my surname. For all ceremonial purposes at home (invitations and other kinds), I can be Oinam James Khuman.

Also, people will hesitate less in having a highly localized personal names, if there can be a westernized counterpart. (In my office someone called Giankaishing is simply called Shyam.)

In a globalised and internet age where everything is getting standardized, why stick to a name order which is contrary to the general order? Also, if we go the Jackie Chan way, we don't give up on our culture either. Surnames were given for practical purposes in the past.

For example, the common Vietnamese surname Nguyen was given by the Chinese while Vietnam was under occupation to help with taxation—to identify individuals with similar personal names.

In Manipur also, there are indications that certain nomenclatures, other than personal names, were used to form team in polo games and for revenue collection purposes (Sagon Kangjei (Polo) (Part 2) by P.B. Singh, on this website).

So I don't think any sanctity would be broken if we change our present naming conventions to suit changing times and make it serve best practical purpose it can.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meitei_surnames
http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/nguyen-name-common-vietnam


* James Oinam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on July 21 , 2017.


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