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anuja iyer


Naming a child, a firm, a business, a film, a character in that film, a production house, a product, a collection, a serial, a pet, a creative hotshop, a book, a team, an event, a cyclone or just a concept is an art by itself. It can be creative, quirky, neutral or plain boring like a million other names. Nameology, astrology, numerology, religion, gender, film stars, tradition, culture and peers are among the many influencers in putting a name to any of the list above. The challenge is to make it click in the minds of the audience, make it easy for the person or subject involved and ultimately memorable for the right reasons.

My cousin had a baby girl couple of years back and all of us in the joint family sat down in a room late night prior to the naming ceremony that was to happen the next day early morning. Each of us had jotted down our list of options taken from all possible avenues (princesses' names from history, ancestors' names, freshly coined names, internet-searched readymade names) and we kept throwing all kinds of names to the new Mom and Dad who would finally take that crucial decision. They never could zero in on any one or at least didn't declare what the final name would be until the naming ceremony happened the next day. After the function got over, later that evening, my brother who missed the function due to a prior commitment came back from office and asked me what the baby was named finally. I just said 'Ammeya' and he retorted saying 'Enna, Innum Ammeyalaya'? I bursted out laughing at what the ears can hear and the mind can decipher if the name is not a common one. It seems to have originated from 'Lalitha Sahasranamam' as one of the many names of Ambal that means 'boundless or magnanimous'. And so did her second daughter get her name recently, another unusual 'Anagaa', from the same source that means 'innocent'. My family tree is so huge that I have almost about 30 cousins (first, second, third cousins) in my father's side alone. So one among the many second / third cousins had named her baby girl 'Sumukhi' which means 'beautiful face' in Sanskrit. But she is fondly called by many as 'Suzuki' sometimes. So much for choosing unusual names after several layers of filtering down a thousand other options. At least they are unique sounding and borrowed from our very own Indian scriptures.

In movies too, names of the films and the characters can be made very interesting. But what's in a name and how does it matter as long as the character is etched well and the film becomes a hit? That's the larger picture of course but sometimes it does make the characters live a longer life in the minds of the people even years after the movie fades away from cinema halls. The moment someone darts the name in a high pitch to call a 'Mr. Chandramouli', the scene where Karthik plays a prank with Revathy's father at the coffee shop in Mouna Raagam comes to mind. That's also got to do with the endearing way the scene was picturised but the name does stand out to aid that recall. There can be only one spy without having a patent to his style of introducing his unique name who can claim 'The name is Bond, James Bond'. No other film's heroes can be named Bond or Jason Bourne due to the strong association the lead characters enjoy in their series of films. Back home here, the more complacent directors opt for the done-to-death names like Raja, Shiva, Shakthi, Priya, Divya, Surya and Karthik that it could be the characters of any of your leads' names in most films. But when you drop the more unique names like Kundavi, Shyama, Thilothama, Jessie, Remo/Chiyaan, Dheena, you can instantly recollect the characters as played by Jyothika, Nandita Das, Maanu, Trisha, Vikram and Ajith in the respective films. And over the years, the names of the on-screen characters have become more contemporary in tune with the times as against a Gopal, Mani, Kumaran, Shekar or a Sharada, Uma, Sivagami and Kamala.

When a film becomes a hit, the names of the lead characters tend to roll over to the new borns in many families. A lot of children born in the 90s were named Rahul, Rohan and Maya after the stylish era of Karan Johar films clicked big time at the box office. The name 'Aishwarya' became a rage after the former Miss World won the title that year. Tamil Nadu's former Chief Minister Mr. Karunanidhi, as part of preserving and encouraging the regional language, introduced a scheme of giving gold coins to those children christened with Tamizh names.

As far as naming a film goes, the most straight-forward way to name a film is after the lead characters' names in the film. 'Roja', 'Sathya', 'Vikram', 'Anjali', 'Kanchana', 'Baasha', 'Annamalai', 'M. Kumaran', 'Padayappa' were some of the film names that fitted the respective title roles played by the leads and did well too but only when a film flops, we wonder why the directors were as non-creative as the film itself with titles like 'Raja', 'Sura', 'Baba', 'Indira' or 'Meera'. Not that a more story based title would've saved these films from being a disaster but when a film has an intriguing title like 'Vaali' or 'Ghajini' for example, where the titles don't necessarily take after the lead character's names, it says a lot about the creativity of the team or the story that is being narrated and encapsulated in one smart title. The challenge however lies in finding the right title for your film rather than just using the protagonist's name in the film as the title or fighting over titles that have already been registered by someone else or recycling titles of yesteryear films (unless it's a remake of the original like Billa). While the recent trend has of course been to name a film after the lyrics of popular songs (Neethane En Pon Vasantham, Oru Kal Oru Kannaadi, Maalai Pozhuthin Mayakathiley) there's a vast treasure trove of title ideas lying unexplored in the Tamizh literature be it the five great Tamizh epics or from the masterpieces of poets like Bharathiyar (like a 'Pudumai Penn', 'Kannan En Kaadhalan') that can be relevant even for the cinema of today depending on what the story is all about.

What's in a name when a Rose, as Shakespeare said, by any other name would smell as sweet? We might as well be given numbers like the hero in the film 'Hitman' as No. 47 or call your film 'Pathaavadhu padam'. But finally it is the distinctive identity and uniqueness that gets bestowed upon a person or character or a film that is at the heart of naming being so important to us thereby having the capacity to withstand the ravages of time and memory for years to come.

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