Thursday, August 20, 2009

In the name of my father...

As is the case with many people from this part of the country, I don’t have a surname. When asked to fill in a surname, I follow the practice of writing down my father’s name there. This can cause some awkwardness when I check into hotels abroad and they inform any callers who ask for me by my first name, that nobody by that name is staying with them.

Apparently, Europeans adopted surnames only in the sixteenth century. France and Germany were the first to do so, but Italy systematized it slightly later. That is why, says this article in Slate, we refer to Galileo only by his first name, as the system came to be implemented after his time.

Galileo referred to himself sometimes by first name only, sometimes as Galileo Galilei, and sometimes as Galileo Galilei Linceo (a nod to his alliance with a progressive group of scientists, which served, in part, as a kind of honorific). The governments of the various Italian city-states eventually grew frustrated by their citizens' constantly shifting last names—without standardization, it was difficult to levy taxes or enforce military registration requirements. Beginning in Galileo's lifetime, therefore, laws swept through Italy requiring parents to record both first and last names for their children. If a family had a traditional surname, they usually used that. If not, they resorted to town of origin or occupation, and then these names were passed down through the generations.

Do you think it would be a good idea to enforce, by law, the system of surname in those parts of India that are still holding out?


Richa said...

I don't use my surname either. But it's by choice rather than a custom.

In India surname usually identifies a person's caste, the region he/she is from and all the things like that. Somehow I don't like being categorized that way especially with all the caste and region politics going on in India. (And please don't tell me that it is not an issue in daily life. We, Indians, are the biggest racist/discriminators in the world.)

I am me. Like me for being me and not which caste or area I belong to.

I like being given that freedom by our constitution: having only one name. It creates a lot of problems for me but still I am holding out.

Mambalam Mani said...

Why bother? In India it does not matter. We will just use the initial system. Why change our system, irrespective of the pros and cons, just because some people find it difficult while traveling?

Raj said...

Mambalam Mani, not India. Only parts of South India.

Richa, you don't use surname in your blog, or in real life or both?