Friday, March 9, 2012

What's your good name?

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare once famously asked. However, had he been an Indian, he might have asked, “What’s in a good name?”

Does it strike a bell? No? Well, no offense, but chances are that if you are an Indian, you too use the phrase “What is your good name?” or at least do not find anything wrong in it. Well, how can it be wrong, when referring to some one’s name as “good” is a mark of utmost respect? A polite and gracious way to ask some one’s name! Well, the truth is that it is not! Simply put, it’s wrong English!

Until a few years back, I too was guilty of using the so-commonly-heard phrase in India. It was one of the sessions on communication which I attended in my office that brought about the revelation! The instructor animatedly described the reaction people from outside India would generally give, when asked for their “good name”. Some of the reactions are as follows:

“My… what???”

“My good name??? Are people supposed to have a bad name as well?”

“I don’t have a good name or for that matter a bad name! Just a name!”

“You mean my family name? My nick name? I am confused!”

A quick Google search for the dubious question also affirmed the same. You see what I am getting at? The phrase simply doesn’t exist in Queen’s language and thus makes no sense for the people from English speaking nations.

To be fair to us Indians, let’s do a bit of analysis. As you would have already guessed, it has to do with some of the Indian languages that tend to give respect to a person’s name. The basis of it lies in that many people here lay a lot of emphasis on the newborn’s name and make sure it is in agreement with what astrology/numerology tells them. The name is supposed to influence one’s destiny. Thus, an appropriate name is supposed to be quite auspicious. In fact, if you go for literal translation of Hindi phrase “Shubh Naam”, it gives “auspicious name”. But “auspicious” probably got substituted by a more general and easy-to-pronounce-and-remember “good” and hence “Good Name”!

Although, when it comes to speaking in Hindi, it’s one of the most polite ways to ask for somebody’s name. And it sounds beautiful!

This does in no way justify the usage of the phrase in English, which is relevant mostly in Indian context. It however puts things in perspective and helps us understand how sometimes a figure of speech having its origin in cultural beliefs of a community breeze into the usage of a foreign language.

So next time, just ask “What is your name?”, and if you want to sound polite, you can always add the word “Please”! 


Pankaj said...

interesting write up :) . As usual i didn't know about this fact. Glad to learn one more thing you Ashish. Even I feel it came from direct translation of Hindi to English.

ashish goel said...

Thanks bro! Your comment is a great encouragement!

rajesh garg said...

waah ustaad!! waah!! ncely written.

but i would like that whole world accepts "good name" in place of name. looks cute.. and we are a Billion in number. just a passing thought..

Deepika said...

good point.there was even an article in reader's digest sometime back regarding the so called polite ENGLISH.i too find the question funny.:)

ashish goel said...

thanks Mom :)

@Rajesh Garg.. thanks for ur compliment dude.. u may have a point there.. as they say, when in rome, do as romans do :P

chhaya said...

this gives us the opportunity to correct the common mistakes while speaking English.The analysis how this came up makes it an interesting read.


ashish goel said...

Thanks Chhaya :)