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The Politics Of Appellation



I was once told to add an “Amma”(mother) or a “Mol”(daughter) to my name so that people will never be disrespectful to me. The respect or the endearment will be embedded in your name the advisor said: The boss and the maid alike will be forced to remain within the boundaries of respectfulness. The Advisor went on and on. But I shrugged off the advice as an old- fashion hangover. At that time I felt completely liberated from those appendages: My name is short and easy. But it was only later that I realized the folly of my nouveau modern ideas and grasped the beauty and the significance of such old fashoined suffixes. A Mol” would have softened any harsh invectives that were directed at me and an “Amma” would have definitely come in handy when I was getting chewed, DO YOU THINK YOU ARRRE A WORLD FAMOUS JOURNALIST MINUAMMA?!” It would never have come out quite right. And I would have had the last laugh. If only I had listened to good advice.

Then there was a classmate of mine called Biju, a very commonplace Biju his name was, till such a day when he added Karamana(a name of a place) to his name. And “Karamana Biju” was a real grand one and it gave him such an Attitude, that it changed his personality and his gait forever.

That got me thinking about how for reasons best known to them, many in Kerala prefix names of places to their own. One must say the addition of geographical contours to one’s name does sound very distinguished and some of the famous ones are Pinarayi, Cochin, Jagathy etc. as in Pinarayi Vijayan, Cochin Haneefa and Jagathy Sreekumar.

But it is the place name ‘Adoor’ that has been the all time favourite with a higher number of artists like Adoor Bhasi, Adoor Gopalakrishnan etc. adopting it. There must be something in it to make famous people make such acquisitions. Or did Fame come calling only after the change in name? Probably the latter.

However the poetics of appellation gets much more interesting when the characteristics of people become colourful epithets: Punchiri (smile), Kanthari (hot chilly) and Poochakanni (cat eyed) are few of the cooler ones. The all time classic ofcourse is Poochakanni Kunjamma. Everyone in Kochi knows Poochakanni Kunjamma is quite a Kanthari ! She’s got it all and it is all in the name!

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