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Monday, August 20, 2012

Why Rosalind

To celebrate her three month birthday tomorrow, I intended to write about how we picked a name for our baby girl - formerly known as Picu. I started writing and it seemed only right to make a few comments about her brothers first, but then the thing got a little bit out of hand and it has now become an extensive monograph on the subject of naming my children.

Here it is, if you have the stamina. (Otherwise just jump to the end for some photos)

For our boys we chose a simple format: Indian first name + Italian middle name + Sujay's last name. The main requirement for the first name was that it should be easy to remember and to pronounce for the Italian side of the family. This ruled out several options and we settled on the name "Rajiv", like Rajiv Gandhi - not out of admiration but just because he was well known in Italy and therefore so was his name.

Rajiv means "lotus" and we liked that too. In fact the second requirement for an Indian name was that it shouldn't have a religious meaning ("god", "light of god", "servant of god") and it shouldn't be unnecessarily arrogant and aggressive ("he who wins every battle", "master of the universe", "he who carries infinite wisdom"). A simple reference to the natural world felt much better.

For the middle name I wanted something meaningful. I always feel that the first name should be chosen based on how it sounds, but if you go through the trouble of picking extra names - that are never used other than in official documents - there should be a reason. In this case the reason was mostly to honor Rajiv's Italian heritage, so we chose Francesco, which is one of the most common names in Italy. It is also the name of the patron saint of Italy, S. Francesco d'Assisi (St Francis of Assisi), who is definitely a most inspiring figure in his own right.

I sometimes feel that we should have gone with the Italian name first, to balance the Indian last name a little more, but I really like the name the way it is and in any case we never call him by his real name at home. He is Appu, no discussion :) This originated from S's cousin once referring to him as Kunjappu, which means something like "little one" in Malayalam, and I started using it as a nickname and it stuck.

When Rohan was born, we thought about going with an Italian first name, but the one I like most of all - Niccolo' - was deemed to difficult for the non-Italians. For a while we considered the English name Rowan, like for example Rowan Atkinson, but it seemed awkward to choose a name that didn't come from either of our cultures without having a special reason for it. So we went with Rohan, which is again a name easy to pronounce and quite appropriate in its meaning ("ascending", nice!).

The only problem is: I am one of those people who have a lot of trouble with the R, I can't "roll" it. At least we didn't call them Ramarro and Rododendro.

For the middle name we went for a family reference this time. Some of my relatives would have liked Michele, after the grandfather I never met, but internationally it gets easily confused with Michelle and S thought it would look like a girl's name. Instead we chose to remember my mother's mother, nonna Ernestina, who had died a few years earlier. She was a remarkable woman, in many good ways and some not so good ones too, and she herself was named after an older stepbrother, Ernesto, a very bright and promising engineering student who was killed by a mine during World War I when he was still in his early twenties.

We tried a few nicknames this time around too, but nothing stuck, so our little tiger is just "Rohan" at home too. Sometimes we call him "kuchoo", a bit like "koo koo ka choo" in Mrs. Robinson, but I wouldn't say it's a nickname.

And now about Picu :) For the first time we didn't know if it was going to be a boy or a girl and I am not able to seriously think about names without this crucial bit of information, so we were totally unprepared. If it had been a boy I would have fought for "Niccolo'", but it didn't happen. Maybe next time. :)

We considered a lot of names for our little girl, but we found it surprisingly hard to find a name that went well with her dad's last name. We didn't want an Indian name necessarily, we were open to more or less anything. The first breakthrough came again from S's cousin Shal (who also introduced "Appu"), when she suggested "Lila", from the novel by Robert M. Pirsig. I guess this was supposed to be pronounced the English way (duh..) but we liked the sound "Leela" better. (Leela exists as an Indian name, but we didn't like that, nope.)

After a bit of research, I found that "Lila" exists as an Arabic name meaning "night" or "dark beauty" and it can also be related to a Persian word meaning "dark-haired".
So far so good. I like the reference to the night and even though I am not a fan of names that imply beauty, I can't help the fact that she really is a "dark haired beauty". Says objectively the mom.

We staid with this idea for a while, but the problem for me was that it really sounded like a little girl's name. Life (and work) can be hard enough for a woman without having a name that invites people to talk down to you. We had earlier considered the name Viola, which I perceive as carrying more weight, and it was my mom who suggested that "Lila" could be a nickname for "Viola". Voila! Sorry..

For the middle name we wanted something with a strong sound - "R" anybody? - to compensate for all the "l"'s and something with a meaning too. We thought about literature characters, but to no avail. Finally, S's mother suggested "Rosalyn", out of a book of babe names. We liked it, but it seemed unmotivated. Then, the epiphany: Rosalind! As in Rosalind Franklin. It was S's idea and everything fell into place. The Perfect Name.



  1. E, Rosalind Franklin is YOU. Just look closer - as Lila is prompting you to do in the last picture. She cottoned on early. Btw, any royalties for name suggestions? No? Darn. It's my destiny to be poor.

  2. And a happy, happy three month birthday to the raven haired beauty of the night:-)