Publish with us

Follow Penguin

Follow Penguinsters

Follow Penguin Swadesh

What’s in a Name?

By Kuber Kaushik

It’s an idea I’ve come across time and again. In everything from mythological tales to Harry Potter, the idea is repeated. Names have power.

It makes sense. Names are more than what we call each other. They are nouns and basic words. They are the foundation of all human languages. They are how we make sense of the world.

But most importantly, a name is a story. Whenever I encounter or conjure up a name, I always try and think about the story behind it. Ultimately, that’s what makes it unique.

Sun Alice – the first protagonist of The Children of Destruction – is acutely aware of her name. Raised for most of her life in Hong Kong, the name sets her apart from her peers, and it colors her perception of herself. She’s even aware of the Alice in Wonderland comparisons as she plunges headlong into a similar (if less surreal) story. It goes deeper though. Even though she complains about her parents’ choosing the name, ‘Alice’ is also her late grandmother’s name, and it connects her to her family. It becomes a touchstone for her in turbulent times, even if she doesn’t realize it.

The other characters in the book have similar stories or influences that go with their names. For the second protagonist – Khadim – his name, ‘servant of god’, is something he avoids thinking about, with most calling him by his last name ‘Kharsan’.

A name can have many purposes though. Take the shape-shifting vixen of a Trickster who introduces Alice to the world of the weird. She goes by ‘Kit’, a simple abbreviation of Kitsune (Japanese fox-spirit). It’s an obviously false name, intended simply to keep others at arm’s length and to protect her secrets and stories (and after being alive for a few thousand years, she has more than her share of both).

Leaving the book behind for a moment, I have often given thought to my own name ‘Kuber’, and I have my own rocky history with it. It is an uncommon enough name that I am glad of it. However, as was kindly pointed out to me during my school years (by obviously well-meaning classmates), it is also the name chosen for a rather pervasive brand of chewing tobacco. The name does lose some of its shine after a few hundred times seeing it on discarded packets tossed on pavements as litter. On the balance of things, though, I remain content with it.

Names change in the voices of others though. To friends and acquaintances through the years I have also been Kato, Kay, Kubi, BearCub and, oddly enough, Cuba, and that’s not even including family nicknames and the like. They all have different tones of familiarity and bring with them a different meaning and a different story.

This brings me to my last point – the meaning of names.

Sooner or later, almost all of us look into where our names come from or are told stories about them. The name ‘Kuber’ has a few shades of meaning to it. Most would ascribe ‘god of wealth’ to it (something which I have found quite ironic when considering my personal finances over the years). A more accurate meaning may be ‘treasurer of the gods’ – a divine banker, if you will.

Perhaps more important than the meaning of a name, though, is the meaning that we take from it. I wondered what it is that a god might treasure. Surely it had to be something more than gold or wealth. Having little divine insight, I settled instead on what I would treasure – words, imagination, ideas… stories. A keeper of stories – that is the meaning that I chose.

Names are the basis of identity, and yet, in the end, just a word. They are given and they are taken. They are earned, borrowed, stolen, changed, and discarded. They are burdened with regrets and nostalgia, lightened by hopes and ambitions. They have power, yes, but only the power that we give them. They are beginning and the end of each of our stories.

So… what does your name mean to you?

Kuber Kaushik is the author of The Children of Destruction, where, between a blind and telekinetic mass murderer, a girl bound to a shadow-demon and a genetically engineered pseudo messiah, a whole generation of weird is ready to come of age. And when it does, the world will change….To know what happens, grab a copy!

More from the Penguin Digest

error: Content is protected !!