MARK TURIN What’s in a Nepali Name? Quite a lot actually.



© Mark Turin, 2000

Bond, James Bond. Shrestha, Development Shrestha. It doesn’t really have the same ring to it, does it now? James Bond is a pretty ordinary and boring name, but Development (Bikas or Vikas, depending on your spelling taste) Shrestha takes a little more getting used to. I know that the word vikas existed long before Nepal became the world’s biggest recipient of foreign aid per capita, and also that there are two spellings and two meanings. Vikash means appearance, display or manifestation; vikas means blooming, expanding or development. Either way, whether your name is Development Shrestha, Blooming Tamang or Expanding Mishra, when translated they all sound pretty bad to the non-native ear. But how did this name come to be? Do parents call their children Vikas in the hope that the introduction of solar-powered cookers will be expedited to their remote village? Or is it just wishful thinking, somewhat like calling your daughter Ruby?

There is something to be said for globalisation, after all, although perhaps it started a good 40 years before most people think. The colonised East had long accepted Anglo Christian names, leading to appellations such as Joshua Bantawa, Michael Angdembe and Mary Yonzone. It took longer for the colonising West to understand the mystical dimensions of Asian names, but when we did, we did so with great vigour. Sprinkled all over European and American cities are Krishnas, Purnas, Mayas, Devis, Rams, Tashis, Dawas and Pemas of all shapes and sizes. Of course, as with any cultural exchange of this type, a few of the subtleties of expression and meaning can be lost along the way. I know two brothers from central Myagdi, north-west of Pokhara, whose father was a great believer in communism. What better names for his sons than Stalin and Lenin? Lenin is now managing director of a successful restaurant in Thamel, but sadly I have lost contact with Stalin.

In Darjeeling, we came to know of a local man by the name of Hitler. We never got to meet him, but perhaps that was for the better. About 40 years ago, his parents, we were told, were in search of a strong and masculine name for their strong and masculine baby boy. Disillusioned with the endless Bal Bahadurs, and in search of originality, they turned to the radio and to newspapers hoping for inspiration. They came across a certain Hitler, often in the news, and by all accounts a very strong man whom everyone took very seriously. The rest is history.

A friend of mine from Dolakha works as a cook in a small restaurant in Kathmandu. His daughter he has named Menu. His son, for whom he foresees great things, is called Mantri (Minister). His neighbour is a skilled craftsman, making chairs, tables and benches from local wood for sale in the nearby bazaar. What could his daughter be called other than Karpentri?

In the Thakali village of Tukche, in Thak Khola, along the Annapurna circuit, there is a wonderful family-run hotel. Every member of the family, from grandparent to grandchild, helps out with the cooking, organising and running of the lodge. One day, whilst a German woman was staying, a baby daughter was born. "What will she be called?" the tourist asked. The family were still undecided, so they asked their guest her name: Christina. What with the difficulties of communicating in a language in which neither of the speakers are fluent, the Thakali family managed to transcribe her name to the best of their ability: Kiss Tina.

Over the course of the years, she has now (thankfully) become Kistina. I am sure that there are taxi drivers out there who have named their sons and daughter Maruti and Toyota, not to mention bus drivers with children called Tata. If you hear about them, please let me know.