What’s in a name?

I have already shared my name story a couple of years ago on this blog. So, this post most definitely is not about my name but more on calling a person by name. In the corporate world, anyone and everyone gets called by their first name and after 7+ years of experience, it does not seem too odd to me anymore. But those first few weeks of joining work, I literally had to stop myself from addressing someone as a sir or ma’m. I would repeatedly be told to use a person’s first name instead.  Few years down the line, it was my turn to say the same to my juniors. There is a sense of equality in calling a person by his/her first name no matter how senior he/she might be in the organization. The same is true for any relationship as well. Obviously we don’t call our parents or elders of the family by their first names but if at all someone is in the same age group, why not? I guess most of you are guessing where I am going with this post. No? Ok, I am blabbering as usual then 😀

I have known S right from my higher secondary school days. We were classmates before we became friends to best friends to a couple. He is nothing but three months older than me. I am used to calling him by his name ever since I have known him and using lesser known nick-names once we got closer. I don’t know what my thought process was when we decided to get married at 24. Frankly speaking, I hardly expected any changes in my life. I knew S well and I had complete trust on him. I knew my life would be better, if at all anything changed. I really did not factor in the families, extended families or their thoughts to have an impact on our lives.

During the first week of my stay at the in-laws, it so happened that I was narrating a fun story about S to my MIL. Vaguely, this was my statement – “ S anga vandaan, naan avana pathen” (roughly translated to I saw S when he came over – without using honorifics) . I saw my MIL’s reaction change all of a sudden. I was shocked hearing what my MIL had to tell me soon after – “Don’t call my son by his name. Also, you should give enough respect to your husband”. To say that I was taken aback would be an understatement. This came up totally unexpected and in a tone that can’t fathom even today. Although very small, this had to be the toughest change if I decided to follow it. With no S nowhere around when this incident happened, I really did not know how to react and remained silent. May be because I knew S many years before getting married to him or that he was my friend, I couldn’t bring myself to call him with honorifics. It was not something I could have changed overnight. Later that day, I shared the incident with S and asked him what he wanted me to do. In the hearts of my heart, I wanted him to tell me not to change and that exactly was what he told me. I could have gone ahead to share the same with my MIL, who is otherwise very sweet and caring. She is not a person of this generation and over the years, I have come to accept this fact. She wants her first DIL to follow all that she did/still does as a DIL. While I can’t accept/do every single thing she expects from me, this I have to live with, lest I hurt her feelings (Or I can say I missed my chance to speak when I had the opportunity). So, what do I do when am at in-laws? Not address the husband anything. Yes, you read it right. I neither call his name nor use honorifics. I try to be as generic as possible, that way satisfying both my MIL as well as my inner-self. It’s not easy but I have got used to it now.

Over the weekend, I was talking to my cousin and the conversation shifted towards S. As usual, I used S’s name while talking and immediately, my cousin brother corrected me saying, I should respect my husband. I don’t understand how calling a person by name translates to lack of respect. Sigh. Super bugged, I went to S and started addressing him with honorifics. Poor him, not understanding the background was a little taken aback as we both are not used to this way of talking. When he later learnt about this respecting-the-husband thingy, he started addressing me with honorifics. His logic being why is respect reserved only for the husband and not the wife. Makes sense right?! Wish I could tell this to the next person trying to come inbetween this!


26 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. was planning to write today in the same lines..:) Now would do some other day.

    Happens in almost all families. I too had faced the same issues and have the same doubt. Your piece is the mirror reflection of my thoughts.

  2. Hi GB,

    I married my best friend of 10 years and was told after wedding by some relatives(from the in-laws side) and my MIL to call his little brother, (all of 5 years younger to me) by honorifics . I taught him when he was in school, suddenly calling him using honorifics was way beyond imagination for me, not for the respect part but for the friendly relationship I always shared with him. I also do not address him anything when I am at my in-laws.
    I always feel the urge to be straight forward and tell what I feel but the kind of unrest it would create stops me. I totally get you here.

    • Opps. I can so relate to it. Thankfully, MIL did not have that rule imposed on me for the BIL. But guess what, my BIL (as in sister’s husband) who is of same age as us is being bugged for the last three years on using honorifics while talking to either me or S. I dont understand why people cant leave this alone. Thanks for sharing your experience Anu and for understanding why I could not take it directly to MIL.

  3. Well, there is a long way to go for Indian households. Till then whatever works for the peace is OK.. 🙂
    Luckily for me, it is pet name of the husband, that in-laws and everyone else use to address him.

  4. This is a tough one, but I guess your approach of using generic terms is quite the middle ground. True that if you give extra respect to S, he should use similar terms for you too, after all you are his better half.
    I am with you in sung the first name to address people, I do it all the time too 🙂

  5. Glad you wrote about it since I think most of us face this issue … Like you I also refer to the hubby as ‘he’ when talking to the in laws … But with staying almost 12 years away and visiting them once in 2 years it’s sometimes very difficult to remember… I know initially my mil took it as disrespect but now she’s given up on me on those times I have a slip 🙂

  6. Same story!!! S and I know each other for almost a decade. I can never imagine calling him Vaango, Pongo.. Thankfully in my family all the younger generation calls the spouse with first name!
    But I should try calling him vaango.. Let see how he reacts!

  7. I did this thing, not addressing at all in front of in-laws, in the starting days of our marriage. I used to call him by name only when we were alone. Now I call V by name, in and out, every where. Thankfully, every one has accepted it now 🙂

  8. I understand the lost opportunity bit from speaking your mind. I have been in the same boat for other instances too. Anyway, your niddle ground makes sense to me. I do call my husband by his name in front of his folks. My issues are different though – I mainly speak to my MIL and FIL in hindi or english. As hindi isnt my first language I believe I havent used honorifics properly a few times when addressing them. Imagine! I have caught myself in time a few times but am 100% sure i have slipped too

    • But that should be ok right? Since its not your first language, mistakes are common and they should be ok with it. In my case, I know both Tamil and Telugu properly so not using honorifics was unmistakable.

  9. Exactly happening to me as well. B is 40 days older than me and even if he is two years older, I would have still called him by name. But to respect in laws, relatives and others who I genuinely don’t care about, I go with the generalized conversation where I never use his name 😂

  10. That sounds tough.. I am used to calling M enga vaanga ponga from the beginning.. so don’t have this issue 🙂 but it will sound weird to call like that if you know the person already and you are used to calling them differently..

  11. I had similar problems in the early days of marriage..But with time, everybody has got used, to me addressing the husband however I want to… Initially my granny also used to address husband in the same way.. I had to tell hers so many times.. he is as good as any of her other grandsons..and she shouldn’t differentiate.. If only she listens to me..
    Atleast, nobody has that expectation from me 🙂

    • Having no expectation is great 🙂 By the way, I had tough time convincing my parents to use S’s first name than calling him with a pretend “SIL name” soon after the marriage. I guess its tough for the older generation.

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