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

As with the example of Sikh names, given names in South Asia are often more badges of membership in a religion than designators of an individual. Practically every male Muslim in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan bears the name Muhammad. On the other hand, nobody there is ever called in person by the name Muhammad, but by one of their individual names next to it.

ETA: I once met someone from India from a Hindu sect whose first name on his library card was Om. He explained that in his sect everyone bears the name Om along with their individual name.

It may well have been the name *they *knew him by. Many English people can have several different names; especially if you include relationships and titles. “May I speak to Pat” is pretty different to “May I speak to Uncle Patrick” or “May I speak to Father Patrick”. Add in a strong accent and it gets even harder.

I was thinking along these lines. It almost sounds like nicknames, but more formalized, structured, complicated, and governed by conventions.

So the above “Pat” could also be Stretch on the basketball team, Maestro in the band room, Junior if his dad has the same name, Tex if he’s from Texas, Snugglebunny to his girlfriend, Bubba to his fishing buddies, etc.

If anyone’s interested, an earlier thread from some years ago with some interesting info.

Tamil names work differently from all the above. Their own given names occur last. The other names they use don’t correspond exactly to surnames. Basically patronymics and place names. There are two internationally famous Tamil violinists of our time: L. Shankar and L. Subramaniam. How can you tell they are brothers? The initial L. is their father Lakshminarayana’s initial: the patronymic. If you needed to tell apart X’s son Y from a different X’s son Y, you can distinguish them by putting their native* town or village first—because Tamil is a left-branching language, like Japanese and Turkish—so you’d refer to e.g. Palayamkottai X Y vs. Tirunelveli X Y.

*In the modern Tamil world of today, your native village is likely to be the one your grandparents came from.

My college roommate was Indian. A group of us were at lunch one time, and my roommate was chuckling when one of our companions mentioned that she calls her father by his first name. She said to my roommate, “I take it you don’t do that?” He said, “My father’s first name is ‘Venkatesalu’ – no one calls him that. Even my mother calls him ‘Raj’.” [A diminutive of the family name].

Thanks, everyone. I also read through the thread Earl S. L. Tucker linked. Naming conventions in India, seem to my Western mind, as quite complex. I am especially intrigued by how Indians seem to regard names somewhat casually – that a person doesn’t need a unique name that identifies him/her in any and all situations. I can’t really think of a parallel in this society, except in using diminutives or honorifics. Such as, my friends call me Drum, my students call me Mr. God, and my drill sergeant calls me God. (Okay, that last one just doesn’t read right at all.) Still, they’re all versions of the same name.

When I asked my student why her and her parents’ names differed, I got the impression that the explanation was simply longer than she wanted to go into. I certainly won’t “press” her on the matter. All I really need to know is what name to call the girls so that they will respond.

So, let’s go to a fictional Indian name: Rajesh Koothripali and his lovely sister, Priya Koothripali. On BBT, their parents are addressed as Dr. and Mrs. Koothripali. Clearly, the writers of the show wanted an Indian character and named him and his family members in a way that would be comfortable for American ears. So, as seen on Big Bang Theory, are Rajesh and his family-members’ names handled in a way that would be familiar to Indians?

Yes, of course. As I said, there are many Indian individuals and groups use the same naming system that we are familiar with in the West. It’s just that that’s not the only naming system used in the country.

First of all there is no one Indian naming pattern, because “Indian” isn’t an ethnicity or a language. There are lots of ethnic groups all with their own naming patterns.

Some groups in Southern india (like my ethnic group) don’t traditionally have the concept of surnames. People have a given name, a patronymic (= given name of your father), and “clan” or “village” name that indicates your ancestral village, and the order goes “village name, patronymic, given name”. The patronymic is sometimes treated as the equivalent of a aurname when South Indians move to America or other Anglophone countries (or I suppose nowadays in India when they have to deal with non-Tamils), but it’s really not since of course the patronymic changes every generation. This would explain children having a ‘surname’ different from their parents, if the family is effectively treating patronymics as the equivalent of surnames. (IIRC Icelanders do the same thing, so this is not purely an indian thing).
E.g. in AK84’s example, M. Sadagoppan Ramesh’s son might be named M. Ramesh Malarvizhi, and his son might be named M. Malarvizhi Anand.

And many cultures which nowadays have “family names” used to use patronymics in the same way, as personal names. It’s the origin of family names ranking from Johnson to Sánchez or di Paolo.

Right, anything ending in -son is an obvious English equivalent. (One obvious problem with patronymic naming is that there’s obviously a conundrum in terms of how to name, uh, illegitimate children).

I guess there’s also a political component as some Indians over the course of the last century dropped their surnames or components of their surnames because they were often associated with caste, and so a lot of people for political or social reasons wanted to reject those identifiers. There is a very famous ethnic Indian scientist in America who is known (and writes scientific papers) mononymously like Kesha or Madonna. IIRC he dropped his surnames to express that he didn’t believe in caste.

Govindjee - Wikipedia

A lot of Tamils actually do ‘dumb down’ their names not just to be easier to pronounce by native Anglophones, but also by northern Indians. (Tamil and Malayalam have some consonants that most northern languages don’t).

It’s not the consonants that are the problem. It’s the syllables. In any case I’m not sure about Malayalam, but Tamil has a lot fewer consonants than North Indian languages.

That is true (my name has a sound that isn’t native to Tamil), but I think these two are unusual in northern langauges (maybe not absent in all of them, but I’ve been told north Indians have trouble with them).

At least Muttiah Muralitharan shortened his to “Chuck”

Huh? Why wouldn’t this apply to any nationality? Is it odd because Americans have to be told this? I don’t think we have to be told this any more than people from other countries. If you want me to call you “Bertha” rather than “John Smith,” that’s fine by me. I’ll even try to remember your specialized, made-up personal pronoun if you want me to.

There are people who think they are being more respectful by trying to use your official name rather than the nickname you give to people for their convenience.

It’s like the made-up name I give to the barista who is making my coffee, just for the sake of convenience. If my barista gets to know me, then he or she will use my actual name, not my made-up name.

So in the office, there are often people who think it’s a barista situation and they will try to show their knowledge and respect by going for the official name.

Did I once read that patronymics were at some point in time universal across Indo-European language groups? Johanna, can you correct me or expand on that?

I always thought they worked just like names everywhere. You call out someone’s name, and they answer. Isn’t that what this is all about?

Not just Indo-European, but pretty much a given across the whole wide sweep of Afreurasia, except for matrilineal societies like the Minangkabau of Sumatra.