Funny and unusual names amongst the Khasi-Pnar of Meghalaya

By H. H. Mohrmen

In the last assembly election the different media platforms had a field day musing at the fancy names amongst the people of Meghalaya These names sometimes sound bizarre. It is also rather strange that the funny names of our people here only gain traction during election time, when people, particularly journalists have time to play around with the issue. The blame should be squarely put on this columnist for initiating the deliberation on this unusual subject since the last 2013 assembly election when I started writing on the issue starting with my own name. It was therefore not a surprise that when the 2018 election to the State Assembly picked up momentum, I received calls about the column which I wrote five years ago.
Again starting from my own name, I have two H’s as initials of my name before my surname but for goodness sakes it does not stand for His Highness or His Holiness (not even close to that). In fact the first H of my name stands for Hamkhein which is my father’s name and the other H is my own given name which is Helpme. And yes when people ask me why did your parents name you Helpme, the quick answer I give is that every time you call my name you also ask for my help. So the name in some way compels me to try to be of help to someone who calls me by my christened name.
Sometimes, having an unusual name like mine has its own advantage. First of all it is easy to remember because it is a name which once people are told about will be very hard to forget. Having strange names also helps one get a pleasant surprises too. On an evening before I left Luther King House where I stayed to study for Ministry at the Unitarian College Manchester, my colleagues and co-boarders threw a farewell party on my behalf. After the dinner, presentation of gifts and all the formalities, my friends decided to close the merry making with a song. David took a guitar and told the audience that for the first time in his life without any problem at all he could easily find a song which is both relevant and befitting the occasion. He strums his guitar and starts singing the Beatles famous number, ‘Help,’ which is of course my favourite song too. Everybody who knows me by my christened name started to cheer and sing along with the singer. So, sometimes having an unusual name is also to one’s own advantage.
So much has been written about the fancy names that we have and apart from having people named after important personalities like Hitler, Napoleon, Churchill, Lincoln etc., names like Let Me, Win Stone and For Me and even Kiss Me was also given to individuals. Recently a friend forwarded via WhatsApp a wedding photograph which has an inscription on the board in the wedding pandal which says, ‘Special weds Speed.’ Obviously Special and Speed are the names of the bride and the groom and not some fancy slogan you happen to see hanging on the wall of a wedding pandal.
Naming children after famous people continues till date. Hence we have a young man named Maradona because he was born during the 1986 World Cup. Parents also name their children after movie stars. For example during the time when Titanic was a popular movie, parents named their children after the actors in the movie. So kids were called Jack and Rose. Now since wrestling mania has become popular kids are even named after famous wrestlers too. Kids are named to commemorate certain incidents in history which have had much influence on the parents. Hence some kids are named after the popular figures in the event. In the villages we have boys named Saddam because he was born during the time when the US attacked Iraq and another boy was named Bin Laden because he was born when Bin Laden was a popular figure.
There are also names which become interesting when the first name is combined or read together with the surnames or the last name. Shillong was once a popular name amongst the War Jaintia people perhaps because this has to do with the ‘Lei Shillong’ the most popular deity in the Khasi-Pnar pantheon of gods. There are also surnames or clan names which are taken after places like Rymbai, Sutnga, Nartiang, etc. So if a person’s name is Shillong and his surname is Rymbai then both the name and the surname of the person are taken from names of two places like for example Shillong Rymbai or Shillong Sutnga.
In the War Jaintia areas of Amlarem it was once a popular practice to name the first son or daughter of the newlywed couple after the father’s clan’s name, so my son will be Mohrmen Passah where both of the names are clan names or Kur.
There are also certain surnames or clan names like Plain or Pohtam amongst the Khasi-Pnar people and when one read the complete name of the person one gets another meaning. Incidentally we used to have a neighbour who is from a Plain clan and her name is Hill so her name is Hill Plain. There is a clan name in War Jaintia which is Pohtam which literarily means a person of the lowest status or rank. A friend told me there is a man from this clan he knew whose name is Greatest. If one reads the name and surname together it will read as Greatest Pohtam in which the name and the surname has the complete opposite meanings. Ironic indeed!
These above names are nothing when compared to the two following names that I came across recently. There is nothing wrong with somebody named Pelnis; it is a normal name to me until I was told that his name spelt differently until somebody suggested that he insert alphabet ‘L’ in middle of his name to make it sound correct. This means that before he got his name corrected it was actually the male sex organ and if not for the friendly suggestion, it would have been a most embarrassing name to have.
A friend who works as a gram sevak in a block office in Jaintia hills told me of the other strange names and though in one reading it sounds normal or does not sound awkward and has a normal meaning too, but when your mind is always looking for funny names then the other side of the name becomes obvious.
In normal reading ‘Phok mi’ which also means ‘your kite’ in Pnar is of course an unusual name for a woman. Who in the world will name a girl a kite? But we all know it is not strange at all to have odd names in the Khasi Pnar community. But if like our journalist friends who have this fascination for odd tribal names one starts reading it using the language we assume is the lingua franca of the world then you have a different meaning altogether. The two words Phok Mi in Pnar has a similar pronunciation with the other two English words which will not be proper for us to print here, so the problem is also with the person who reads the name or as they say – it is in the eye of the beholder.
This conversation centering around awkward names will continue to fascinate us for years to come and the good thing is that we can also weave stories out of it.

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