Anand Natrajan

What's in this name?

This guide is meant to educate non-Indians as well as some Indians on the pronunciation, spelling, meaning and other idiosyncrasies of my name. The intent is not to patronise, but to expose everyone to the wealth of nuance that exists in most names, using mine as an example. Also, I would prefer it if people spelt and pronounced my name correctly, although I am slow to take offence when I recognise any cultural difficulty in doing so.

Below right you will see my name written in different scripts. If you recognise any of them, I hope it will enable you to pronounce my name correctly.


Despite the apparent simplicity, my name is hard to pronounce for non-Indians. The correct pronunciation is

Ä·nûn'd° Nût·räjûn.
Ä as in father
· as in the briefest of pauses
n as in no
û as in undo
n' as in encore
as in midway between do and they - make your tongue touch the back of your upper teeth
My last name is much easier to pronounce despite the size.
Nût as in "He's a tough nut to crack."
räj as in "The British Raj"
ûn as in "His laces came undone."

Most English speakers demand to know which syllables should be emphasised in the pronunciations above.

  • With Indian names, any syllable emphasis you want to put goes on the first syllable, not the second.
  • All Indian languages are phonetic - you pronounce them exactly as you read them. (There are minor dialect differences in terms of how some consonants get pronounced, but within a dialect it is always consistent.) Indians who can read my name in the various scripts on the right side of this page will all pronounce my name exactly correctly with nary an explanation required.
  • Syllable emphasis is an alien concept to most Indians mainly because the phonetic nature of the languages obviates the need for any specification of emphases. Still, if you want to emphasise, the first syllable should be emphasised. If you "erred" and emphasised all syllables equally, or didn't emphasise any, you'd still be more correct than wrong.

Common mistakes in pronunciation of my name:
Û as in undo
n as in no
· as in the briefest of pauses
ä as in father
n as in no
d as in do - tongue touches the ridge behind the upper teeth
Most common mistake made by American speakers.
Ä as in father
· as in the briefest of pauses
n as in no
û as in undo
n' as in encore
d as in do - tongue touches the ridge behind the upper teeth
Mistake made by American speakers genuinely attempting to pronounce my name correctly. The last consonant is unfamiliar to most Western speakers.
Û as in undo
· as in the briefest of pauses
n as in no
û as in undo
n' as in encore
as in midway between do and they - make your tongue touch the back of your upper teeth
Mistake made by Indian speakers confusing my name with Anant, an entirely different name.
as in the well-known nut
Mistake made by the official who conducted our US wedding.
Nät·rûjûn Most common mistake made by American speakers.
Nût·rähän Most common mistake made by Spanish speakers.
Nût·räyän Most common mistake made by Scandinavian speakers.
Nûtûräjûn Most common mistake made by Indian speakers.
Nûtûräjû Common mistake made by South Indian speakers.
Nût·räj Deliberate misspelling by my father when he wants to disguise our ethnicity in India.
as in the gas
"Correction" suggested by Microsoft Word.

आनंद   Devanagari (Hindi)
ஆனந்த   Tamil
આનંદ   Gujarati
ಆನಂದ   Kannada
আনংদ   Bengali
ആനംദ   Malayalam
ఆనంద   Telugu
ਆਨਂਦ   Gurmukhi (Punjabi)
ଆନଂଦ   Oriya
•– –• •– –• –••   Morse


My first name is not spelt as Anant or Ananth - those spellings refer to another word, whose meaning is "infinite" or "unending". My name has a different meaning. My name is not spelt as Ananda. Although this spelling retains the meaning, the last vowel is unnecessary and only confuses speakers who choose to emphasise it. My last name is not spelt as Natarajan. This spelling has the pleasing property of regularly separating every consonant with an "a", yet retaining the original meaning. However, my father chose to spell his first name (and consequently my last name), the way it is now, and I don't intend to change it.


My name is Anand Natrajan. Behind that simple statement lies a problem. My first name or appellation, to use a Western taxonomy, is Anand, and my last name or cognomen is Natrajan. I have no middle names, middle initials, modifiers or number attached anywhere to my name. I'm just plain and unvarnished Anand Natrajan.

To most Westerners, the above explanation is sufficient; it certainly suffices for the multitude of forms I have filled in the US. To Indians, all of this isn't enough. In India, I usually wrote my name as N. Anand or Natrajan Anand because Indian forms typically require the surname or family name first. In other words, the first name in India is usually the last name in the US and vice versa. Some Indian forms distinguish between a surname and the father's name. In those cases, I made sure to leave the surname blank and enter Natrajan as my father's name. Indeed, Natrajan is my father's first name. We have no family name or surname. We belong to a sub-class of South Indians (Tamilians, Kannadigas, Telugus, Malayalees) who have no surname. Thus, my father has always been S. Natrajan - recall that we write the given name last - where "S" stood for Subramanian, his father's first name. In days past, when the British forced Indians to cough up a last name, many such South Indians took on a fake last name: either their caste or sub-sect (Iyer like my paternal grandfather or Iyengar or Nair or Shetty like some others) or their village name (Thirukodikaval like my maternal grandfather). However, since Independence, we have happily reverted to our chaotic nomenclature, much to the confusion of North Indians as well as family chroniclers. In a sense, our names are much more chaotic than those of a sub-sect within us, whose names remain the same in alternate generations, i.e., the first son is named after his paternal grandfather, the second son after the maternal grandfather, and so on (if you can figure a sequence here).

As you can imagine, with this background I made several mistakes in filling forms when I first came to the US. For a while, I was two different people based on the ordering of my names. My wife has the same problem with her names. In addition, if she followed tradition and changed her name after getting married to me, the correct change would be from Rashmi Srinivasa to Rashmi Anand. In other words, my first name would become her last name. Following this tradition is silly for us because (i) my first name isn't sufficiently "weighty" to be a last name (my father's first name is), (ii) it jars against our sense of equality and (iii) Rashmi is already known professionally by the name she had before marriage.


Anand roughly translates to "happiness" or "satisfaction" or "delight". However, none of these meanings captures the correct nuance. Even textbooks that give synonyms of the Sanskrit word anand as sukh (contentment) or khushi (happiness) do not capture the correct meaning. Books on Hindu philosophy catch the correct nuance, in my opinion, when they translate anand to "spiritual bliss". According to these books, the four goals of a human's existence are:

  1. artha - seeking wealth, prospering, fulfilling life goals
  2. dharma - ethical goals, such as leading an honest, charitable, hard-working, knowledge-seeking life
  3. ananda or kama - sensory goals, such as wealth, love, etc.
  4. moksha - also called "nirvana", or release from the cycle of birth and death, and becoming one with the Brahman
Here's a related entry from A.Word.A.Day.
Date: Wed, 22 Sep 2004 00:04:09 -0400
From: Wordsmith 
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--ananda

ananda (AH-nan-duh) noun

   Pure bliss.

[From Sanskrit ananda (joy).]

Anandamide is the name given to a compound found in mammalian brains.
It's the same compound that's found in chocolate. Now you know why
chocolate gives you that feeling of bliss.

  "In the emerald blue silence there is space for awareful existence of
   the fullness of ananda."
   Song of Silence; The Times of India (New Delhi, India); Aug 9, 2004.

  "Then and there he (William A. Devane) decided that if his quest proved
   successful, he would name the elusive chemical after ananda."
   Marijuana And the Brain; Science News (Washington, DC); Feb 6, 1993.

Natrajan is easier to translate. "Nat" means "dance" and "rajan" means "king" or "lord". "Lord of the dance" is a title for Shiva, who is one of the members of the Hindu holy trinity, along with Brahma and Vishnu. Each member is a facet of the Supreme Brahman, the life force that pervades everything in the universe. Shiva is the Destroyer, i.e., that aspect of the life-force that "recycles" or "cleanses" the universe so that it can be created (by Brahma) and preserved (by Vishnu) anew. Myth has it that when Shiva embarks on a path of destruction, he performs the Cosmic Dance (hence the name Nataraja) which consumes everything in its path.


This section contains an explanation of my formal introduction as per Hindu tradition. The introduction is steeped in several millenia of tradition and ritual. Some of the components of that tradition are archaic, whereas others would offend our modern sensibilities. In particular, portions of the introduction refer to my caste. There is much to talk about, against and even in support of the caste system, but I have chosen not to digress here. Instead, I present the introduction as-is, and am happy to discuss components of this elsewhere.

Hindu tradition requires boys and men to introduce themselves formally in the presence of elder relatives or friends. The introduction, called the "abhivaadaye", consists of the following components:

  1. Pravaran: Literally, it means "most exalted ones". In the abhivaadaye, it consists of the "most exalted ones" in the family lineage. These exalted ones are sages or "rishis" whom we claim as kinsmen.
  2. Gothram: This component stands from the sage from whom we descend. Tradition has it that all humanity descended from seven sages who themselves are children of the gods.
  3. Sutrakaara: Literally, this stands for "he who wrote the sutra". It denotes the author of the textbook that interprets the Vedas for our clan. The Vedas were passed from generation to generation orally, but some thousands of years ago they were put down on paper... or at least leaves. The sutras, which are the textbooks on the Vedas, are named after their authors. Accordingly, for each Veda, the sutras are:
    1. Rig Veda: Asvalayana sutra and Katyayana sutra
    2. Yajur Veda: Apastamba sutra and Bodhyana sutra
    3. Sama Veda: Drahyana sutra and Rananayani sutra
    The fourth Veda, the Atharva Veda is treated as a second-class citizen, and hence not counted.
  4. Saka: Literally, it means "branch", and it refers to the Veda we "follow". I am not sure what it means to "follow" a Veda, since every Veda seems to have something useful for everyone. It's also not clear why humanity has to be assigned to Vedas, but the ancient Brahmins were maniacal classifiers. Hindu brahmins, kshatriyas and vaishyas are all assigned to the Rig, Yajur or Sama Vedas in mix-and-match fashion, but the sudras and other non-caste people were monolithically assigned to the Atharva Veda.
  5. Nama: This is the given name for the person. It should end in "sharma" for brahmins, "verma" for kshatriyas and "gupta" for vaishyas. The brahmins, kshatriyas and vaishyas refer to the top three castes of the Hindu caste system. The brahmins were the priests, the educated caste, the keepers of knowledge. The kshatriyas were the warrior caste, sworn to chivalry, honour and defence of the country. The vaishyas were the mercantile caste, given to trade and travel. The sudras were the lowest caste, and consisted of artisans, farmers, menial labourers, craftsmen, etc. Finally, Hinduism lumped all foreigners into a mlecchha caste, which is really, a non-caste. People within the caste system were supposed to follow rules pertaining to interactions betwen castes, but the mlecchhas were considered too reprobate to bother giving rules.
Accordingly, my formal introduction would be:

abhivaadaye introduction
athreya archanaasa chyavaasva thraiyarusheya pravaranvidha I come from the exalted ones, the three rishis, Athreya, Archanaasa, Chyavaasva
athreya gothraha from the gothra or lineage of Rishi Athreya
apastambha sutraha Rishi Apastambha being the one who translated the Vedas
yajur saakha adhyayi Yajurveda being the Veda we follow
sri ananda sarmana nama my name is Anand, the brahmin
aham asmi bhoho and I salute you

Edited by Anand Natrajan, anand@anandnatrajan•com, on Wednesday, 10-Sep-2014 16:08:56 BST.