How do Indian (as in the country) names work?

I have three students who are natives of India. They came to the USA as small children. All three are girls and have the same parents. However, their names differ from their parents. The girls names are Sue Smith, Sally Smith, and Beth Smith. Their parents are Harvey and Irina Jones. So, how do names work in India where the girls’ names are different from that of their parents. Would this be different if the children were boys? I asked the oldest girl about this once, but she couldn’t explain it.

While I can’t answer the specific question, I would point out that there are great number of different ethnic groups in India, each of which has their own naming conventions. It would be helpful to know what part of India the family is from.

Hmmm. That’s interesting. I’ll go ahead and say that the two “last names” involved are Patel and Raja, if that helps.

You’ll have to tell us what the common part of the girls names is.

eg “In 1699 Guru Gobind Singh gave all his Sikh male followers the surname Singh and all females Kaur.” Well this may be the name the parents USE, but they don’t apply it to the girls ? Keep reading on that.
The pattern in asia is that with so many people with the same family name, they don’t bother with surname for school use. To avoid there being 20 Indira Singh’s in the school, they use two girls names so the names in use are not their official family name. So if they are sihk, then the school girls won’t use the two Sihk surnames.

Another possible reason for a different name in the indian girls is that family names also implied caste and the indians avoid using it for school so as to not avoid caste system indoctrination.

Summary… One or two or three of what you think is a family name isn’t actually their official family name.

Many of the Sikh names in the news and business in Canada tend to have Singh as the middle name. A number of others have triple names and SIngh is the last name.

I worked with a fellow from western India who changed his name when he got his Canadian citizenship. He said his original name was his given name, and since there were no family names where he came from, he used the name of his village as his surname. When finalizing his “official” name for documents and from then on, he chose instead to use his father’s name as his surname. (Presumably passing it on to his children…)

Our guide in one area of India during a recent visit was translating names for us - He said one name indicated merchant, another farmer, etc. (I.e. Gupta, Patel, …) I suppose no different than our use of Miller, Fletcher or Cooper.

Patel at least is a Gujarati name, although found in other states as well.

However, from here, Gujarati wives typically take their husband’s surname, and the children take their father’s surname.

Every ethnic group in India has its own rules for names. In some places, an entire caste shares a name. In some places they simply don’t use family names. In some places they use the same pattern of given name followed by family name that we use here.

It becomes very complicated when Indianas immigrate to the west because very often they don’t know quite how to handle their names in the face of western expectations. It can become a muddle.

Indians can also be cavalier about their names, offering a different version for different purposes. They don’t have a concept of having one single unvarying official legal name that is spelled consistently. They will give whatever form of their name seems to be easiest to deal with.

However, your student who couldn’t explain—I bet she is purposely trying to avoid giving you a proper answer.

If it were me I would press her for an explanation but I don’t know whether that’s possible for you to do in your position.

Naming in India can depend on local customs. I have have read of one Indian family in which everyone(parents and several children) had a different surname due to their having moved around a lot.

What kind of position can you be in that gives you a right to “press” someone for an explanation of this kind? The OP is evidently a teacher or educational administrator, and needs to know the name of student. They don’t need to know why a student has the name he or she does. If they’er interested they can ask, but they need to ask politely and respectfully; it is, in the end, none of their business.

A guy who used to work for me had a kind of anglicised version of his Indian name which he said was given to him by an immigration official who just wanted to write something in the boxes on his form. His family had fled from Kenya.

He spoke several Indian languages (there are well over 400 - but many are pretty similar) and volunteered as a translator for the police in interviews. I would get phone calls for him sometimes asking for a name that sounded nothing like his and he explained that it could vary with the language and ethnic group.

I wouldn’t need a “right.” I would just ask. I am an Indian-American and I have a particular interest in how Indians form their names and when I have a question about someone’s name, I ask, because I want to know. I’m not in Drum God’s position, so I have no such restrictions on the matter.

Well, yeah. That’s why I said what I said. I don’t know how that necessitates lecturing me.

Back to the main point, Indians can be very cavalier about their names. They might have a “good name” that they use in religious ceremonies or in very formal interactions with the elders in their families, but this name might be completely different from the names they routinely use at home, among friends, at school, doing business on the street, etc.

Each social interaction can result in a different name, and that name might be very different from every other name they use. And as Bob++ said, when interacting with someone from a different ethnic group, it’s very common to let them use that ethnic group’s version of your name.

And Indians can be very cavalier and casual about all this. This can be significant if they come to the United States without being very familiar with western attitudes towards names. It’s very common for a single person to end up with a different name on his or her birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, school enrollment records, etc., which creates massive headaches for their immigration lawyers. But many Indians fundamentally don’t get why it’s a big deal to use a different name for every situation.

The OP’s situation might have happened simply as the result of some misunderstanding about how names work in western society and inconsistencies in paperwork.

**Ascenray, **I think it was the word “press”, which implies applying pressure to get someone to comply when they’ve indicated their refusal. Pressing a student to reveal something personal would be inappropriate. In fact I was wondering if you had dropped the word “not”!

Sounds like you simply meant “ask one last time”.

No, I was contrasting what I would do with what the OP might or might not be in a position to do.

I’m a stranger who has no particular relationship with this person, so I would be more persistent and be less concerned with how asking more specific questions would affect our future relationship.

If it were me, the actual me, not me in the OP’s position as this student’s teacher, I would find more ways to ask that question until I got an answer or determined that this person really doesn’t know.

But I still don’t know why this hypothetical situation is cause for comment. As I acknowledged in my first post, the OP may not be in a position to do what I would do.

I just remember an Indian friend of mine, saying of two Indians that I should have realized they were brothers since they had the same middle initial! I didn’t pursue the question since I decided it was probably too complicated to understand. My friend was a Parsi living in the west and he and his family seemed to follow our traditions.

Ok, I accept you meant “press”. Most people find being pressed by someone on a personal manner inappropriate. That may explain the reaction.

That’s the same for many other people who are used to interacting with people from different languages and/or cultural groups. Last year I worked for a company which has a lot of people in and from India; we had to take these courses about Indian culture which were clearly geared towards Americans. My Spanish, Italian, Brazilian, Polish… coworkers were confused about why whomever wrote the course felt the need to explain that “if someone tells you ‘call me Raj’, then you should call him Raj and not whatever his email says”.

You sure?
Names are very ethnic. Now there is some overlap, and people do give names from other groups, but names are a very good indicator.
Ajit Agarkar is going to be Marhati.
Saddagoppan Ramesh is going to be Tamil.

Might have been a case where they used an "anglicized"hypocorism? For instance
Sam for Samit or Samita?
Annie for Anita
Sandy or Jay for Sanjay
Vicky for Waqar or Waqas?
Sunny for Sunil

Technically Sri Lankan, but seriously a dude called Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vaas needs to shorten his name

This is good to learn.

Over the years I’ve known many Indian folks and have wondered about their anglicized nicknames: “Call me <something gringos can pronounce>”. That always felt cringeworthy to me, as if they had to live with some unwelcome moniker because of our inability (unwillingness really) to handle complicated words and unfamiliar phonemes.

I’m pleased to hear that it (probably) doesn’t feel as grossly wrong to them as I’ve assumed.

Just a couple days ago I met a fellow whose “first” and “last” names are each about 5 syllables and 15 letters long. Both words contain the string “reddi” or “reddy”. His nickname is of course “Reddy”.

There’s a huge diversity of naming conventions in India

A) Some follow first name family name as is common in the West

B) Some have a last name that was originally based on profession or title

Eg daruwalla , screwwalla . (Example from.parsees…Someone who makes or sells liquor, screws)… not very different from smith, Taylor, miller

Eg Thakur (lord)

C) some have a suname based on the caste

D) some have a middle or last name based on the place/village of origin

E) in some places and castes, there is no concept of surname or family name, the name is taken from the father

Think Sven olson and his son thomas svensson…

Except indians may not have literal son/dottir as part of the name. Simple Axx father of Byy, Byy father of Czz means Byy will have the name Byy Axx and his son Czz will be Czz Byy. It is also common to have the father’s name as just an initial and no surname. Eg A. Byy with no surname

I know nothing about Indian naming conventions, but that sort of family can exist in the USA. Think adoptions and previous marriages, even deliberate name choices. Could that explain this particular situation?