Naming a newborn in Kashmir has always been a matter keen interest and hectic debates. While some parents casually decide from a few names prior to the birth of the baby, others do an intense research, Abdul Wajid reports.
An archaic house in Sonawar locality of Srinagar city presents vibrant looks. A highly enthralled crowd of relatives are walking the path leading to the old house. A life-sized samovar resting at one of the corners of a big lobby serves guests with the appetizing Kehwa. The air is filled with the smoke of Isband (aromatic seeds). With more relatives are dropping in to wish Riyaz Ahmed and Masrat Jan who have been recently blessed with a baby, the gathering looks cheerful.
As the celebrations go on, Masrat who is sitting on a thick mattress looks calm with a smile on her exhausted face. Her husband, Riyaz, is busy serving the guests. Amidst the mixed sounds of chuckles and chit-chats, those who have gathered are suggesting naming for the newborn. “The baby looks like his father. I will name him after his father only,” declares Nisar Ahmed, brother of Riyaz. In a moment, another voice emerges, “No I will name him after a great scholar.”
The debate about naming the child will go on for many days. The crowd will thin out and the suggestions will keep falling. The proud, undecided couple, although happy, is worried now. They are anxious about naming their newborn son. Riyaz spends most of his time consulting his colleagues and other internet-savvy people to get a good name for his son while his wife has decided to meet a famous cleric of the locality.
To name a Muslim new born in Kashmir has always been a topic of greater interest. Parents find it very difficult to select an appropriate name. While some parents are very choosy and prefer to approach Islamic scholars, others decide upon it prior to the birth. People who are themselves well-versed with Holy Quran derive a good name from some Quranic verse while others prefer to consult a learned cleric.
“Nowadays, people are getting choosy about naming their children. The wide use of internet has also revolutionized the concept,” says Riyaz. Using the various resources available on internet, people now find it quite easy to go through an ocean of interesting names that are available with their complete description.
Sharif Ahmad Dar is a famous cleric in Sonawar. I met him at his house to investigate the procedures followed by people living in the locality for naming their newborns. An old bald man was sitting obediently in front of him with a long list of names in his hand. Two youth were waiting patiently besides the man. “Yi naav chus asal (This name suits him best),” Sharif suggested to the bald man who gets up to leave.
After a while, Sharif turns to me. “There are many things that we need to consider while naming a child. We need to investigate the complete details of their parents, the date and place of birth,” said Sharif after a long pause. “There are many other things that are to be taken into account. A specific modus operandi is followed as per Sharia.”
Naming a Muslim child is given a much importance for many reasons. Sharif and most of the people I talked to believe that the name play a very pivotal role in one’s life. “Names make a mark on the future and career of a baby. It also affects the health and marriage,” said Sultan, explaining the remarks of Sharif.
“I have a personal experience that if the mother’s and daughter’s name begins with the same alphabet, then there is a good bonding between the two. Also, I have noticed certain women names that prove prosperous in civil services and other similar exams,” Sharief said.
Kashmiri society, although a Muslim majority state, is a blend of Muslims with different beliefs. Where some people follow the orthodox concepts in naming a newborn, others believe in different ways. Astrology and numerology also play a pivotal role, particularly for Muslims of the Shia sect. Sajad Hussain Khan dedicates his free time in studying astrology and numerology, besides working as an accountant in the state finance department. “People, usually my colleagues, come to me for suggestions and problems that chiefly include naming their babies. A specific protocol is followed which includes the logic of simple compound. We sum up the birth dates into simple numbers and then look for an appropriate name,” he says.
Not only Shias, even some Sunni factions follow this protocol. Sharif claims the numbers play the chief role in naming a newborn. “Numbers like 4, 7, 33 and many others have certain importance. Every alphabet in a name falls in a specific category with a specific number. We add the numbers forming the date of birth of the baby and then divide the sum with twelve, the number of astrological stars. The remainder gives an idea of the names to be followed that is further selected from a list of names falling under that number,” says Sharif.
While some Muslims follow the astrological concept adopted by Sharif and Khan, others rubbish the concept as superstitious and faulty. Fatima Wani, a 66 year old woman says, “I was named Fatima by my father following two of my elder sisters with the same name who died soon after their birth. But my father rubbished any superstitious belief of a doomed name and preferred to give me the same name, Fatima, as of my two late sisters. And look, I am alive and talking to you now.”
Then there are some religious scholars who use to suggest less important names to the people they considered low caste while keeping inspiring names to their own kin. “There were certain self proclaimed mullahs who considered others as inferior and suggested odd names to them. But with time as people got more educated, this cult has diminished,” says Fatima, “now the trend is changing. People commonly admire the Arabic and Persian names that may not necessarily be a part of Quran.”
Besides religion, there are many ‘trivial’ events that play a role in naming a newborn in Kashmir. Many people have named their newborns after their favorite cricketers, many of them who played for the Pakistan cricket team. Names like Inzamam, Rameez Raja and Waseem Akram are very common following their popularity. Bollywood has also been another choice. “I was named Rameez Raja by my father, probably following his admiration for the well known Pakistani cricketer,” says Rameez Raja, a Srinagar-based businessman.
“In the past, people were widely known more by their nicknames. Long names were always shortened to devise a new nickname that was easy to spell. Usually people with the name Ghulam Mohammad were called as Gulla and Abdul Rashid as Rasha. No one from my elders called me Fatima but Faeti,” Fatima says.
More interestingly, people try to choose names in order to avoid any possibility for funny nicknames that are prevalent in Kashmiri society. These sobriquets are devised by people mostly for mockery and in some cases for affection. Whereas the culture of nicknaming still prevails, many youth take cues from Hollywood movies to anglicize their names. Ironically, despite having a good name, many people still earn nick names as per their looks, habits or profession that later becomes their trademark. “I remember some nicknames like Rabbi Chapin, Tin Tin Gaeid and Myakut. I really don’t know their real names but this is only how people know them,” Fatima says.