Names for the Eagle-eyed reporters

By H H Mohrmen

Come election and reporters from outside the state with eyes as sharp as that of the eagle will delve into the electoral reportage role not for analyzing the information and data but for reasons other than that. Every election that we have had in the past would have journalists asking me for an interview or would receive questions over the phone about the peculiar names that people in the state have.
There are indeed people who if given a choice would wish to be born in a different avatar. Given the opportunity, one would wish to be born richer, healthier, or perhaps in a country that is more developed but there are people whose only wish is that they were given a proper name. What’s wrong with the name is the common refrain. Few people have to carry a wrong name for no fault of theirs. Embarrassing as it may be for them, they have to live with it. And as if carrying a funny name is not embarrassing enough, then some people dare to ask them questions about their names. Like how did you get such and name and why did your parents give you such a name?

The identity of the
In a tribal culture, the person’s name and clan name is something that one would have to carry on till the person dies. The person’s name and one’s clan name is the most important part of a person’s identity which distinguishes one from the other as the person is known by his/her name and clan name. The first part of the name gives out the person’s unique identity in the community and the latter tells us about which clan the individual belongs to. Unlike in the western culture where people have the tradition of having three names, the first name, the middle, and the last name, the indigenous people of the state only carry two names. The second name tells us about the clan that the individual belongs and the first name gives us the identity of the person. An individual can change his or her first name but one cannot change one’s last name. Interestingly enough there is a change in the way people have named their children and this has evolved with time.

Names and Traditions
The interviews that I give to reporters and writers from outside also compel me to introspect and question myself about the way people decide on the names they give to their babies. Unfortunately, the Hyñew Trep people do not have a readymade list of names for the parents to choose from when they decide to name their son or daughter, and that is also why the names of people evolve with time. Of course like any other tradition, the Hynñew Trep people also have their traditional naming ceremony and in Jañtia hills it is called “sib syiñ/bam syiñ” or “chat lane.” In the fifties and the sixties perhaps the popular female names in the area were ka Lasubon, ka Synchar, ka Diang, ka Rimai, ka Imai, ka Rophimai, ka Lakhi and for male u Riata, u Lo, u Manik, u Riang, u Kiang, u Ïang, u Mon and others.
In the traditional religion, twin babies were given special names. Whenever twin babies are born in a family, the tradition is to name the elder ka Durka and ka Kongka in case of baby girls and u Ram for the elder son and u Lakhon for the younger son. In the War Jañtia area of the Amlarem sub-division, the other unique naming tradition practice in this region is to name kids by their father’s clan’s name. In the southern slopes of the West Jañtia hills district, the tradition has it that the first child of the family is always named after the surname or the clan’s name of the father of the baby. That is the reason you have people with names like, Min because the father is from a Lamin clan, Lah because the father belongs to the Khonglah clan, Chiang because the father belongs to the Myrchiang clan, and Riang because the father is from the Tariang clan and Bui because the father is from the Rymbui clan.
Mihpyrtuid: To name after the ancestor
In the Pnar culture, there is also a tradition of “mih pyrtuid” when a newly born is believed to be the reincarnation of one of the elders of the clan. Kids were also named after the dead elders. When kids have chronic ailments and were taken to the traditional medicine practitioners they would suggest that the kid is the reincarnation of the elder and thus be named as such.

The evolution of names: Naming the babies after the day they were born
To understand the naming tradition of our ancestors, the furthest we can go back to in the family tree is to the time of our grandmother. Even during our grandparent’s time, the general practice then was to name the person according to the day the person was born. Before we proceed further let us understand the concept of counting days in a week as per the tradition. According to tradition, a week has eight days in the Khasi Pnar traditional calendar and the name of the day is based on the market day when the market was held in any village. The day when the market is held at Jowai is called ka Musiang and similarly, the market day at Wahiajer is called ka Pynsiñ, and the market day in Nartiang is Mulong, and so on.
The market day in the area is always considered the penultimate day of the week for all the villages in its vicinity. It serves as a pay-day because on a market day people from everywhere and from all walks of life congregate in the market. It is also the day when people do their weekly shopping because in the past markets happened only once a week and that is on the market day. The week starts with Muchai which is the day of rest, followed by Pyngkat, Thymbleñ, Hat, Khyllaw, Pynsiñ, Mulong and Musiang being the last day of the week. Popular names during those days were Siang for a person born on Musiang, Chai because the person was born on Muchai and Kat, Law, Siñ, and Long because the person was born on Pyngkat, Khylllaw, Pynsiñ, and Mulong respectively.

Saints and English Names
The next stage was when Christianity arrived in the region and people started naming their children using saints, apostles, and biblical-related names. This is why people have names like Peter, Mark, Moses, Mary, and what have you. Some people named their kids after Christian saints like Xavier, Anthony, Thomas, Theresa, and others. Kids were also named after a certain event or by the names of important persons in the event. For instance, a boy with the name Maradona would certainly be someone who was born during or after the 1984 World Cup. But the names which will be an opportunity for the journalists from outside the state to have a field day are the peculiar English names people give to their children.
When the election process begins they will first look for odd names from the list of candidates who contest in the elections for their story on peculiar names in the state. Then they will spot names like Hitler, Napoleon, Never Care, Evening and Morningstar, and Midnight. And then they will dive deep into the whole electoral roll and look for more interesting names. The roll will consist of all sorts of names from Helpme, Bless me, and Withme to Toilet or Tailet. Very recently there is an unfortunate incident that turned hilarious just because of the name the alleged criminal had. An alleged hardened criminal along with his partner in crime was brutally murdered, but what made the incident humorous was the name of the main person in the gang who went by the name ‘I Love You.’ A gruesome crime turned into a humour, social media burst into laughter, and memes were made just because of the name the alleged hardened criminal had.
So much for naming children thoughtlessly!

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