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
Most English speakers demand to know which syllables should be emphasised in the pronunciations above.
Common mistakes in pronunciation of my name:
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:
Date: Wed, 22 Sep 2004 00:04:09 -0400 From: Wordsmith
To: email@example.com 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.