Strange Name Discrimination

Researchers have found that the easier it is to pronounce your name, the better your chances of getting promoted.

From The Telegraph

The team of American and Australian scientists concluded that the easier a person’s name was to say, the better their success was in the workplace and the quicker they were promoted.

In a fiver year old post I drew the very same conclusions. From My Secret Starbucks Name

All things being equal, in Sales, you can be under a major handicap if the client is unsure about how your name is pronounced. A guy I know had the following email signature – Niraj (knee-rudge) Sharma. He was a top Sales rep at Infosys. Others have to take even stronger measures. There was a guy I had some business dealings with in New York, whose parents, in an inspired moment nearly half a century back in India, had named him Bhuleshwar Gandhi. In New York, when he wisely decided to change his name, he decided to not succumb to sentimental half-measures – he changed his name to Bill Grandee. I suspect that was a turning point in his career.

The research studied the effect of last names. In my opinion, first names matter more because you need to use them over and over again.

The average Indian first name is tough to pronounce in western markets. If you contrast Indian first names with typical American first names there are key differences in design and intent. American names are short and the nick names are shorter. The nick name for every first name is pretty standard. David is Dave. Timothy is Tim. Robert is Bob or Rob. American first names are designed for an easy “user interface”.

Indian Hindu names, on the other hand, are designed to be unique and beautiful. When parents name their children they want other parents to ask them the question “What a beautiful name, what does it mean?”

Also, the Hindu names are always in Sanskrit – the language of the gods. It is as if, it doesn’t matter if mortals can’t pronounce it, as long as the gods can.

By the time my daughter was born, I had a keen appreciation of the value of a short, familiar name. My wife and I named her Lori, which is a familiar American name. It also happens to be a Hindi word that means lullaby. In Sanskrit lullaby would be Alolika. Which is a non-starter. She would have been called Aloo by all, which means potato.

But even with her name, we couldn’t resist the temptation of an honest-to-goodness Sanskrit name. So we snuck in a middle name, which she will probably shorten to an initial all her life.

In this new world that is fast globalising, my advice to Indian parents is to please be kind to your children and name them with simpler two syllable names.

12 thoughts on “Strange Name Discrimination”

  1. Basab,

    I had some friends in Australia who didnt want to name their daughter Pooja, for fear of being shortened. Another of our IITK batchmates changed Arsh – his son’s name – to something more acceptable….

    Finally, on a realistic note saw a desi parents naming their son Anik Paul Marathe… dual user interface!


  2. Hmm, interesting. Not generalizing, but curious to know if this forms a key decision in hiring sales folks by Indian IT organizations in US and other geographies?


  3. Closer home, North Indians had a tough time getting Azhagiri’s (Karunanidhi’s son) name right. Because Hindi does not have the phoneme associated with the ‘zh’ sound. It is not a zee/zed sound. The poor guy got so fed up that he just told everyone to call him Alagiri, which though not correct is closer to the actual Tamil version.


  4. …When you visit China on a work visa, you have to compulsorily register a Chinese name… During his first visit, they changed my friend Prabhakar’s name to Yuang Li ( with a not so exact tangency to what his Indian name means, i.e. the Sun )… :-)))

    But the parents do have a problem at hand… Now if they give a first name that comes easy to a westerner, what if China / Korea / Brazil or even Africa happens to be where the kids are headed as they grow up… Who can guarantee the perpetual pre-eminence of the west that temporarily looks good on paper purely because they have the capacity (and audacity) to print all the more paper…?


  5. some others just resort to using their “pet” names like sonu, monu

    incidentally i am looking for simple boy names..suggestions would be welcome …don’t want to name him Neel or Jai….that would be like giving up without a fight..


  6. > She would have been called Aloo by all, which means potato. :-)

    These multilingual pitfalls are familiar to us all in India, aren’t they? Every language has its favourite examples. The pragmatics that govern these choices are also interesting. If aloo meant “potato” in Koya (and not in Hindi), we probably wouldn’t have cared.

    Giridhar (who shortens it to Giri in the Esperanto world for another bunch of reasons)


  7. Basab,
    Fascinating post; and it is sure touch a nerve among fellow desis. And I am glad you didn’t give any specific names to illustrate. ;-)
    To add to your points, NRI desis of current generation seem to be more fascinated by Sanskrit names that probably don’t roll off even most Indian tongues.


  8. Dear Basab,

    Though this is my first comment out of the closet, I have been reading you blog post for the last 6 months.

    A great Déjà vu recount on this article which I too recently read here in India.

    Your post set me thinking once again – What should be a, “Made Comfortable” Version of my Name?

    The closest I came to, following your examples was, Akhilesh to Akhil to A’-Kill


  9. Basab,

    I remember a sales rep from an Indian IT firm who was then based out of US, using “Bangalore” as the second name…..probably to strike a chord with companies/execs willing to outsource work to India.Guess his name explained the work he offered …”Outsourcing”….When he shifted back to India, he started using his real surname.He is from south India.


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