First name basis

1. I’ve noticed that people in the South use first names much more commonly than in the North. I can think if a simple explanation for this – south indians either don’t have family names (tn, old mysore) or have unpronouncable/hardtoremember family names (andhra/kerala). so a south indian Siddharth Tata is likely to introduce himself as T. Siddharth whereas a north indian Siddharth Tata is likely to say S. Tata.

2. I’ve noticed in my extended family that concepts such as “aunty” and “uncle” made their entry only in my generation. I’ve never heard either of my parents using either of these words, or any of their Kannada synonyms. Everyone is addressed by their first name, irrespective of whether he is nephew/cousin/uncle/granduncle.

However, this firstname thing stops at the family level and doesn’t extend to work. People unrelated to you instinctively become Sir or Madam (this is in my parents’ generation. I don’t know how people in my grandparents’ generation addressed unrelated people). In fact, all of my mom’s male colleagues used to address her as Madam (or I should say may-dum).

I don’t have data to support it but it is possible that this Sir business has something to do with the British Raj, and wasn’t common in South India before that. I don’t know how far back the “ji” system in the North goes (i know it goes back at least as far as Gandhiji), but my general sense is that it is fairly ancient.

Ok – so – here is the hypothesis. We Indians are not hierarchical at the family level. Despite all talk of “don’t question your elders” and similar sundry stuff, I don’t think at the family level we are inherently hierarchical. However, go beyond the family and the caste system takes over and brings in a social hierarchy – which is why everyone outside the family becomes “sir”, etc.

12 thoughts on “First name basis”

  1. I remember reading in Discovery of India that “ji” is a corruption of “arya” which is used to address all supposedly “noble” people.
    arya became ajja in prakrit which in turn became the honorific “ji”.

    In the deep south, “arya” turned into “ayya”. I suppose “Aiyar” was a blanket term used to address anyone from the educated priestly class in the Tamil country.

  2. Obviously a lot of people in the earlier generations must have been using the Kannada versions of aunty and uncle, or the words wouldn’t have survived until today. In my parents case, they definitely referred to their elders by using the appropriate Telugu versions of aunty and uncle.

    1. no. thatz my whole point. my parents have never used the kannada versions of the relationship words. they’ve always addressed everyone by name.

  3. Equivalent of ‘sir’ and ‘madam’ in earlier times was ayya and amma. ‘ayya endare swarga, elavo endare naraka’ a dasara pada goes.

    As for first name in South India, it is indeed sad that more and more people are going in for the first name-last name system of rest of the world giving up our century old Initials-Given name system. South Indian system breeds individuality as you don’t have to carry your clan name as part of the name. Part of the reason people are moving away from the system is a. First name Last name is considered cool – the Amreekans use it. b. Practical – if you have to get a passport, you have to expand one of your initials as a last name anyway, so might as well let the kids get used to it from beginning.

    Whatever the reason, it is targic.

    1. Interestingly, what you say (about everybody being referred to in the third person at least by first name) is true on my father’s side, who are kannadiga but for some vague tam vestiges than on my mother’s side, who are significantly more tam. so it might be a thing restricted to the mysore bangalore area.

      1. very interesting. would be interesting to figure out why this is the case in this region only. also, I wonder if it’s caste-specific (don’t have data on this eitehr way)

        but I need to mention here that my mother and my father are natives of almost opposite corners of the Old Mysore region – father from Chickballapur (close to Gultland) and Mother from Hassan.

  4. I understand – my point is that your family must have been an exception and hence you cannot use this as evidence for your hypothesis about Indians being hierarchical or not at the family level.

  5. The Band was always famous for its retirements; we’d go and play and get a little petty cash together, and then not see each other till it was time to fill our pockets up again.

Put Comment