|My colleagues have
also suggested naming my children “American”
names. So, I asked what names would be American. To which
they suggested names that were derived from Christian and
Jewish faiths. Personally, I have a great deal of respect
for all faiths of the world, but to call those names American
was a bit too much. I made them aware that the names they
suggested were of different religious persuasions than my
own and they were most definitely not “American”.
As America is the land of immigrants, my children’s
names are “as American as apple pie,” I politely
When my daughter was in the first grade, I volunteered as a
parent-chaperone to go along with her class for a trip to the
Bronx Zoo. When the children arrived at the zoo, they were whisked
away into a classroom, where an instructor told them all about
the animals they were going to see that day. She spoke at great
length about the animals, reptiles for that day, and then she
began to ask questions. The children’s names were all
displayed on large index cards hung around their necks, and
whoever raised their hand, the instructor would point to and
say, “David, do you know the answer?”
There were many questions asked – and I knew for certain
that my daughter knew answers to a few of them, as we had discussed
some of them in preparation for the class trip. My daughter,
even at that young age, was quite an outgoing person and talkative
to an extent. To my amazement, she didn’t raise her hand
even once to questions that I was certain she knew the answers
When the information session was over and we got ready to go
view the reptiles, I held her hand and asked her if she didn’t
know any of the answers. She said she did. “Then why didn’t
you raise your hand to answer?” I asked her. To which,
she answered, “Daddy, they can’t say my name right.”
When my son, who is five years younger than my daughter, was
old enough to play with other kids in the park, we spent many
hours there. He’s the type who would lead other children,
some even older than him, to his kind of games. Coming down
the slides or on monkey bars, he’s the one, usually, leading
the pack. On one of these outings, while he seemed to be quite
careless, I shouted his name and told him to be careful. Upon
hearing his name, he came running to me. Then to my ear, he
whispered, “Daddy, my name is MICHAEL. They (his friends
in the park) can’t say my name right.”
As easy as it is for others to pronounce my name, many of my
colleagues had asked me if they could call me “Sam”.
But, knowing Sam would be a short form of Samuel for males and
Samantha for females, in general, I declined their request.
Just as it falls upon my shoulders to remember my colleagues’
names, it is their responsibility to remember mine, if they
feel it is worthwhile.
My colleagues have also suggested naming my children “American”
names. So, I asked what names would be American. To which they
suggested names that were derived from Christian and Jewish
faiths. Personally, I have a great deal of respect for all faiths
of the world, but to call those names American was a bit too
much. I made them aware that the names they suggested were of
different religious persuasions than my own and they were most
definitely not “American”. As America is the land
of immigrants, my children’s names are “as American
as apple pie,” I politely reminded them.
On separate occasions, both my children have said to me, “I
hate my name”. They say people make fun of their names.
As a concerned father, I tried to explain them that children
are just children. They make fun of any name. I asked them if
some of their friends with more common names are also made fun
of. Surely, they gave me examples of how other children were
made fun of also. After we agreed that children can, when they
want, make something up to ridicule any name, not just theirs,
I proposed to change their names legally to their desire, if
they so wished. I told them that my wife and I gave them their
names when they were born based on our cultural background.
Now that they are old enough to understand what their special
names represent, and they can pick alternate names for themselves,
if they desired, and if it would make them happy, I for one
was ready to fulfill their wish.
And to my wonderment and pride, they have both declined to
change their names. They like their names, they said, as they
The practice of naming names is different in various part of
the world. Some name names that are related to their religion.
Some are regional. Some names mean something. Some names are
chosen at random.
Most of us from the Himalayan region request a name for our
children from a high Lama after the birth of our children. Back
home, we would bring the newborns to a Lama and request him
to name the child. Lamas are also invited to our own homes for
the child’s christening.
In today’s modern world, many of us simply make a telephone
call to the Lama. After giving him the necessary details, such
as gender, date and time of birth, the Lama speaks the name
over the phone and the child is named as such. This telephone
call could be made weeks or months after a child is born.
Since many of us are now in western countries, where a name
is required for newborns at the hospital as soon as they are
delivered, we require their names for them before they are even
born. In such circumstances, to play safe, we ask the Lama for
two names – a male and a female name. Of course, if one
is certain of the gender of the child with the advent of Sonogram
and other modern technologies, you ask for just one name.
And many of us name our children on our own. When people ask
me who named my children, I jokingly tell them, “Pala
Rimpoche”. My daughter is named after both my wife’s
and my own mother’s – coincidentally, they shared
the same name. My son is named after the Indian guru who brought
Buddhism to Tibet. My mother said she had prayed to the guru
for us to have a male child. So when her prayers came true,
we said why not name our son after him?
So, the names my children have are very special to me. Likewise,
any name you name your children has a special meaning. Be it
a name you name on your own, from a high Lama, or His Holiness
the Dalai Lama. These names signify our background, our religion,
our culture, and our tradition that defines each and every one
of us. Just because we are in the midst of people who aren’t
familiar with these names, it does not mean that we should abandon
our culture of naming our own in our own tradition.
Here’s a quiz: Do you know these names and can you pronounce
them correctly? George Stephanopoulos, host of "This Week"
on Sundays on ABC TV and a former aide to the president Bill
Clinton. Michael William Krzyzewski, often referred to as "Coach
K", the Basketball Coach at Duke University. Zbigniew Brezinski,
former National Security Advisor to the then U.S. President
Jimmy Carter. Kweisi Mfume, the former President and Chief Executive
Officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People (NAACP). Or how about General John M. Shalikashveli,
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
If the American people can say the above names, they sure will
learn to say ours, if only we reach to the positions where everyone
is compelled to know our names. Although very important in relation
to one’s background, names are not that important in comparison
to the qualities that the name-bearer possesses. In William
Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the Bard
asked, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet.”