Naam Gum Jaayega

Two years ago, in 2016, British actor Michael Caine officially changed his name to Michael Caine. Now what was that, one name “changed”—to the same name, a joke of some kind? It wasn’t. We soon discovered that the octogenarian’s real name was Maurice Joseph Micklewhite. He had hated that name. Before getting into films decades earlier, the young man had changed his name to Michael Caine, the name with which he had become successful over the years. All over the world, Michael Caine was recognized and celebrated as Michael Caine. But he hadn’t bothered to change the name officially. His passport, like his other documents still said Maurice Joseph Micklewhite. This was not really a problem till 9/11 happened, followed by all the ghastly things Al-Qaeda and ISIS were doing. After such terror attacks and threats, everyone stepped up security, with airports worldwide becoming critical places to beef it up. So if earlier it wasn’t really a big issue for Caine, things had changed now. “Was Michael Caine travelling on a fake name?” officials wondered. In the new environment he would be frisked and detained at airports, with delays of an hour or more being quite common. The octogenarian couldn’t take it anymore.

Do remember that in the same year, actor Shahrukh Khan was frisked and detained at a US airport too, not that this was the first time for him either. Such detention is interesting in the light of his film My Name Is Khan (2010), in which his key message to the President of USA was “My name is Khan and I’m not a terrorist”. One wonders if he too was fed up with all these detentions and if he ever considered changing his name, to say, Rajeev Saxena. Hmm. Maybe not, because this name could be shortened to Rajeev “Sucks” by his detractors. How about Rajeev Srivastava? That sounds nice, fresh and classy. Except many Srivastavas themselves ran away from their surname, as we will shortly see. Meantime, how would Indians back home react? It seems they just wanted you to be a Khan to put you up in high orbit.

All these name-change thoughts were fermenting in my mind earlier this week on Manna Dey’s birthday, i.e., 1st May. A few of us were listening to him sing Madhushala, a long series of quatrains written by Harivanshrai Bachchan and composed by Jaidev. We know that Manna wasn’t his real name, it was Prabodh Chandra, which he hated. At home his elders called him by his pet name, Manna. “Bring me a glass of water, Manna”. Or “Manna, get ready for school”. The singer happily dumped his original first name. Harivanshrai’s surname was Srivastava, but he too had a pet name, Bachchan, which means child-like. The poet dumped his original surname.

Many people like Michael Caine, Harivanshrai Bachchan and Manna Dey change their names. Here are some reasons why people do so:

If they don’t like the name their parents gave them. When their name evokes laughter among others. For reasons of acceptability in cinema or on the stage. When they want to cut off ties from their parents. When they change their religion. Or get married, in which case they use both surnames in a hyphenated way or drop the premarital one completely. If they want to stand apart from other people with the same name. If they want something that can sound better in their profession, or something that can be pronounced more easily. For saluting their wife or mother by adding their names within their own. When Asians go to live in the English-speaking world. Even for numerology. Such name changes happen among ordinary folk too, but high-profile celebrities changing their names creates headlines.

In our part of the world, poets change their name routinely. From Shakeel Badayuni to Hasrat Jaipuri, from Sahir Ludhianvi to Majrooh Sultanpuri, from Qamar Jalalabadi to Neeraj to Naqsh Lyallpuri, many poets have changed their names to adopt a “takhallus”, a pen name. Poets in the west usually don’t change their name. But since it is common among our poets, perhaps even expected from them, we can overlook them for now.

Let’s look instead at other kinds of celebrities, glancing first at famous people abroad who changed their name, without us going into specific reasons of why they did so:

Actress Norma Jeane Mortenson became Marilyn Monroe.

Singer Bob Dylan was christened Robert Allen Zimmerman soon after his birth.

Actor Kirk Douglas, of Russian-Jewish lineage, was born Issur Danielovitch Demsky.

British singer of Indian origin, Freddie Mercury, was called Farrukh Balsara.

Pugilist Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali.


On the desi front too, there have been many such name changes:

Filmmaker Sanjay Bhansali became Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

Journalist Swaminathan Iyer renamed himself Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Iyer.

Writer Shobhaa De was Shobha De, before which she was Shobha Rajadhyaksha.

Actor Rajesh Khanna was originally called Jatin Khanna.

Actor Jaikishan Kakubhai changed his name to Jackie Shroff.

Prolific actor Sanjeev Kumar had the unlikely name of Harihar Jethalal Jariwala before he took on the new name.

Johnny Walker was Badruddin Kazi before his work in films.

If you too want to change your name in any way, there’s a procedure. You have to sign what they call a Deed Poll, which is a formal legal document in which you promise to give up your old name and take on another one for all purposes.

Let’s get back to the great poet Harivanshrai (ex-Srivastava) Bachchan. Now Srivastavas are Kayasthas, a sub-caste of intellectuals spread across northern India. Many converted to Islam, so we have Muslim Kayasthas too, but one wonders whether even they consider they have descended from Lord Chitragupt, who sits at the gates of Yamraj, the God of Death.

But there have been other Srivastavas who have dropped or given up their surname too, most notably the composer Chitragupt, at least in name the father of all the Kayasthas. Chitragupt preferred using only a mononym.

There was Lal Bahadur Shastri too, India’s Prime Minister, who had issues with our caste system. So he first dropped the Srivastava surname, and later on, adopted Shastri instead. This was after he received a degree in Philosophy from Kashi Vidyapeeth. Shastri means the Wise One.

Independence activist “Loknayak” Jai Prakash Narain was another Srivastava who dropped his surname.

But perhaps the most drastic change of this name came from a certain Dhanpat Rai Srivastava, who went to a madrasa to learn Urdu and Persian, and then wrote as Nawab Rai. When the British thought his writing inflammatory, they went after both his books and him. He then changed his name to Munshi Premchand, and is among other things known as the father of the Urdu short story, as also a great writer in Hindi.

Here now are a few songs in some way associated with these five gifted people.

  • Jo beet gayi wo baat gayi (Bachchan wrote this)
  • Dil ka diya jala ke gaya (Chitragupt composed this song)
  • Pipra ke patwa sareekhe dole manwa (from Godaan, 1963, a Munshi Premchand story)
  • Mere desh ki dharti sona ugle (Lal Bahadur Shastri mentioned)
  • Kahaan gayi wo teri Ahinsa (Jai Prakash Narain mentioned)

It is said that great people’s work lives long after they have gone away. So it’s ok to say “Naam gum jaayega, chehra ye badal jaayega, mera kaam khud hi pehchaan hai”, with apologies to its writer Sampooran Singh Kalra, better known as Gulzar.


Originally published on 06 May 2018 in DNA Jaipur page 13

Featured image on top: from Pipra ke patwa

16 thoughts on “Naam Gum Jaayega

  1. Dhanyavad, shukriya, meherbani and thank you for this wonderful article Manek.Some people say “Naam mein kya rakha hai”? But Naam hi se to insaan ki pehchaan hai. ?again. I didn’t know so many personalities have changed their names ! My salaam to you for your intense research & this article of yours. You have dived deep into this subject to give us the pearls. I’ll read this article many times to learn about the names of the famous & successful people. Please keep giving us such knowledge through your articles. Best wishes & thank you again.

  2. Wow! Manek, your article is a game-changer, actually name-changer! I don’t recall the last time I was so fascinated and instantly educated at the same time about the name-game. Some of these were real revelations! I often read of weird names that celebrities in the west bestow on their children – Apple, Audio, Blue Ivy, Bronx, Saint, Rainbow, Puma, North, Maple, Java, Honor, Denim, Cricket -I mean what gives?! I wonder how many will retain those once they’re thinking adults.
    Numerology dictates several decisions with people adding/deleting extra vowels for better luck or greater success. And I find this amusing…but well, to each his/her own, especially if it works for them. Anyhow, let me conclude by repeating myself – your thorough research and sharp clarity on topics chosen continues to amaze us, your readers, week after week. Keep at it Sir, doffing The Hat to you ?

    1. Grateful Madhur, I’m smiling well now 🙂

      Chalo ab jaldi se meri topi lauta do Madhur…it’s my thinking cap, but I also use it to doff you, and the bright minds that humble me here 🙂

  3. Wowww what an insight of change of names… And we still say ” whats in a name ?” , ” naam mein kya rakha hai” …if name is not important then Let RaGa remove his surname and then lets see if anyone even notices him 🙂 …
    By the way i had seen an interview of Amitabh where he said that his fathwr was against caste system and hence when Amitabhs admission was supposed to happen in school, he kept the Caste space blank and entered his name as Amitabh Bachchan instead of Amitabh Srivastav… Also we have Jeetendra who was Ravi Kapoor, Akshay Kumar is Rajeev Bhatia, Mahima Chaudhary is Ritu Chaudhary, The Scion of cinema Dilip Kumar as Yusuf Khan and the list is endless 🙂 and Shakespeare will turn in his grave 🙂 … By the way my name was supposed to be “Siddharth Prasanna” imagine the pain i would have been going through filling forms ?….. I have a pet name and that is Siddhu… And also in my home Mom calls me Siddharth and Dad calls me Prasanna.. Kahin dekha hai aisa? ? many people who have keenly observed it have been confused… For me its like “shyaam tere kitne naam” ?? …. My surname too is a business inherited surname, our actual surname is ” Narvekar” belonging to a small village ” Narve” in Bicholim Takuka of North Goa District but since our forefathers had Gunpowder business which in our local Konkani language is called as ” Vajan” hence Vajandar ??

    1. Oh my my! from Narvekar to Vajandar and now Voiceover…what a journey…but also Siddharth and Prasanna both? But both are lovely names…you deserve them both too 🙂

  4. What a brilliant article this is and it is indeed our good fortune to read what Vijayji has written. Thank you both Sirs, for educating us, this is from the bottom of my heart.

  5. Manek, aap kahan kahan pahunch jaate hain. Sheer brilliance ! Just amazing !

    The article should engage me a little more being a Srivastava myself. Besides, I too had dropped my surname while filling up the form for the High School Exam. This also incidentally raises the assumption that not all who drop their respective surnames or take takhullas become great.

    The list of eminent Srivastavas is long, very long. But I will take the liberty of suggesting three more to your list : one, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, two, Firaq Gorakhpuri, the eminent Shayar and three Natwar Lal, the notorious thug though his notoriety pales into insignificance if we reckon the scamsters of recent times.
    Kayastha…. It means not of kaya ( the seen body ) but within it. Interestingly, Kayasthas do no figure in the social classes referred to in the Manu Smriti ( varna vyastha ) – Brahamin, kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra – respectively representing the mouth, arms, thighs and feet of the primordial Purusha. Narendra Nath Dutt – a Bengali Kayastha – better known as Vivekanand – when questioned by the Brahamins about his place in the varna vyastha, he quipped and silenced the questioners by asserting that a Kayastha is a manasputra of the aadi purush – he is not of his body but of mind !

    Srivastava the eldest son of Chitragupt the Kayastha means the home of grace. Sri is grace and vastavya is ae home ( as explained by Harivansh Rai Bachchan in the first volume of autobiography kya bhoolon kya yaad karoon – one of the best biographies that I have read ). Srinivasan, a popular name amongst Tamilians, especially brahamins, incidentally has the same meaning.

    Churchill, in his celebrated book History of the English Speaking People had described Kayasthas as the class of writers of North India. Here the writer is to be taken as a euphemism for a clerk. It is a fact that the Kayasthas, especially Srivastavas, were largely court clerks and low level revenue officers – patwaris, kanoongos etc. – collectively known as munshis ! My grandfather was a kanoongo.

    It is also a fact that owing to their proximity with the ruling class, the kayasthas enjoyed a status – or an immunity of sorts against oppression in the name of religion. As such, conversions from amongst kayasthas, though not much, were voluntary and not coerced. However, there were Srivastavas who were not reconciled to serving under the muslims. Many of them therefore migrated to the the southern UP and Madhya Pradesh, to escape the muslim tyranny. Those migrated called themselves Khare ( the pure ) – a popular surname still, And the ones who decided to serve under muslims were referred to as Doosre ( the others, implicitly meaning not pure ). However this distinction is nominal and does not exist in their social interface including marriages. I am a Doosra. In fact all Srivastavas are Doosre.

    Thanks for this Article.

    1. Vijay Kumar, uff! Uff! What does one say about your study? I am amazed at how much you know and how well you express it _()_

      You know, I love your humour, but sometimes I take it with a pinch of salt, especially when you direct it at yourself. Now consider this para penned by you: “The article should engage me a little more being a Srivastava myself. Besides, I too had dropped my surname while filling up the form for the High School Exam. This also incidentally raises the assumption that not all who drop their respective surnames or take takhullas become great.” I do offer you a smiley for the humour 🙂 but I have issues with it too. That’s because I consider you to be a giant amongst men. Time and time again, your thoughts, expressed so wonderfully, pulverize. They make one think, to sit up, to learn, to offer a torchlight. You are in my view a yugpurush! It is another thing that you don’t give Press Conferences, in an age when that is what works.

      I’m so delighted to know what all you said, especially the “doosra” part 🙂

  6. Manek =Shobha was also ‘ Kilachand’ between being Rajadhyaksha and De. Even De was Dey for sometime.
    I think the relevance of songs posted here has more to do with your blog association than the significance of them with today’s blog.
    Wonder what connection Mehmood’s photo has to this blog.

    1. Dilip, thanks for the Shobhaa De info, I knew I was missing something!

      About the relevance of songs, they are there because I write on music. As a stringer, my job needs me to address my core area, at least lightly. The songs do apply to the people mentioned, right?

      And why Mehmood? Do see the footnote 🙂

  7. Excellent write up as usual. We have Komalveili, Shivaji Gaekwad, Abdhul Khader as Jayalalitha, Rajni Kant and Prem Nazir respectively. They have there reasons to change names but I am not certain if they put changed names on their passport for travel abroad. I too have changed my cyber name. Just for the heck of it. After all name is something given to you by your parents. The name part of “Naamroop”. Makes you think anyway ‘what’s there in name’ ? ..

    1. And I know you are a surgeon, that you are a Marathi-speaking, photography-loving music buff of an advanced kind. But I still have no clue about your real name 🙂

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