Unveiling Deep Societal Issues through the Unusual Names of Girls in Rajasthan

(Photo courtesy of the author)
Harshitha Pudota, AIF Fellow (Photo courtesy of the author.)

In life, an individual’s name transcends mere labelling; it emerges as an integral aspect of one’s existence and identity. Every name carries a narrative, a subtle meaning, a concealed significance and often a cultural resonance, whether a homage or a tribute to someone special. Despite the repetition of names and the impossibility of having a billion unique ones, we don’t complain. Why? Because, while names may be similar, the individuals behind them are unique.

We often find it uncomfortable when someone mispronounces or butchers our name. We insist on correcting them until they get it right, or at least close because our names hold a special connection for us. Now, consider this scenario: what if a child is named “Mafi” (Sorry) because her existence is deemed unwanted, and her parents express regret for having a girl child? This journey to unravel the stories behind names made me pen down this blog post.

In my second week at the host organization, I joined my supervisor for a field visit to one of the schools managed by the organisation. During a tea break, we had the pleasure of meeting a group of girls, and it was during this casual interaction that one girl introduced herself as “Naraji.” Initially puzzled, I asked my supervisor, who informed me that it translates to “anger” in English. Engaging the girls in a conversation, my supervisor seized the opportunity to share the story behind his name, to encourage them to question the meanings and intentions behind the names bestowed upon them by their parents.

As I delved deeper into this conversation, it sparked further discussions in the office, shedding light on the widespread practice of unusual names and the underlying narratives behind these names in Rajasthan. Turns out, it is a prevalent practice and the stories woven into these distinctive names left me utterly stunned. This made me raise awareness about the heart-breaking tradition of such unconventional names in Rajasthan.

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons via the author.)

Reflecting Unwantedness and Harsh Realities

According to Kulshrestha’s findings, across groups and communities in Rajasthan, the third or fourth girl child of the family are given names that denote that they are undesired. Take a look at a few of them: Ramghani (Ram, you have given us enough daughters), Haichuki (enough), Antima (perhaps the last), Dhapu (meaning “we – the parents – are fed up”), and Ramnari (Ram, you have given us many girls). Additionally, in keeping with the times, these children are being given names that evoke sentiments of rejection and being unloved, such as Naraji, Phaltu, and Guarantee. Even ‘Missed Call’ because the parents missed out on a boy and the girl child was unasked for.

It makes me ponder whether these parents carefully consider the implications of such names they choose for their children, especially as they venture into the outside world and build their lives in these evolving times. These names essentially function as derogatory slurs for the children persistently shadowing them and serve as a lifelong reminder of societal prejudices and parental oversights. This practice reflects an inherent form of discrimination against girl children, casting them as unwanted or as bearers of ill fortune. The prevailing preference for male offspring and the deeply ingrained patriarchy reflect a lack of consideration and negligence towards the concerns for the well-being and fair treatment of women in society.

Why is it important to understand the narrative behind the names?

In Indian culture, Naamkaran (naming ceremony) is a significant event held to celebrate the bestowed names, carrying deep cultural importance. Parents give thoughtful consideration while naming their children aspiring that they would embody the essence of those names. Names are considered to be an integral part of who we are, extending their importance beyond the confines of our lifetimes.

On the other hand, in the rural areas of Rajasthan, pervasive patriarchy and underlying societal challenges contribute to young girls being saddled with distressing names. The extensive prejudice against girls and the unspoken difficulties they endure highlight the pressing need for change. It is essential to initiate conversation around these names starting from their birth and the thoughtful bestowal of appropriate names makes it imperative to transform this narrative.

As noted by Hedrick from The Week, the name plays a pivotal role in shaping a sense of one’s identity and self-perception, ultimately influencing the trajectory in different aspects of life and career. So, let’s envision a future where names do not serve as a reminder of shame but rather stand as a testament to individual strength and identity.

Hedrick, Michael. “How Our Names Shape Our Identity.” The Week, 8 Jan. 2015, theweek.com/articles/460056/how-names-shape-identity

Kulshrestha, Parul. “From Phaltu to Antima to Missed Call… the Curious Case of Naming Girls in Rajasthan.” The Times of India, 13 Dec. 2021, timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/from-phaltu-to-antima-to-missed-call-the-curious-case-of-naming-girls-in-rajasthan/articleshow/88206798.cms

About the Author:
Harshitha is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Fellow with Gramin Shiksha Kendra in Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan. For her fellowship project, she is developing and executing strategies to empower girls through engaging activities that impart essential life skills, foster their autonomy, and establish educational initiatives aimed at enhancing the capabilities of the girls and their communities. Having recently earned a master’s degree in International Studies and a bachelor’s degree with triple majors in History, Tourism, and Journalism, Harshitha has a diverse academic background. Her father has been a constant source of inspiration throughout her life and being raised in a family of social workers, she has harbored a desire to contribute to the development sector. Over the years, Harshitha realised her increasing interest in the social work sector and made choices accordingly and it is reflected in her work experience as well. She has contributed to the Public Affairs Foundation, focusing on enhancing public governance, and served as a communications intern at the Rural Development Trust, an organization dedicated to empowering rural communities in India. Her experience at the grassroots level has given her a comprehensive understanding of the needs and aspirations of communities, further fueling her dedication to making a meaningful impact on the lives of those she works with. During her postgraduation, Harshitha served as a skill development coordinator effectively teaching life skills to students while coordinating various events, workshops, and training sessions. She shares a fervent passion for writing, editing, teaching, and learning new languages. Through this fellowship program, Harshitha aspires to gain hands-on experience in community engagement and is looking forward to the opportunity to foster a safe and supportive environment for the young adolescent girls in Rajasthan along with Grameen Sikhsha Kendra.



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