Call me by my name. Pretty please

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Sushmita Bose

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Published: Thu 18 Nov 2021, 8:23 PM

At times, I wonder why we are duly given a name — to have and to hold for all time — at ceremonial “name-giving” functions, after truckloads of research and discussions and arguments and counterarguments (at times, consulting astrological/numerological charts), if, somewhere along the line, it becomes “disrespectful” to be called by our names.

Let me explain.

As you grow older, your name is replaced by generics. Mom (and various renditions of it), dad (and various renditions of it), uncle, aunty, grandma, grandpa and so on. If you are a South Asian, you are likely to address your elder sister as “didi” — not by her name, however pretty-sounding that might be (of course, there are language variations: in Malayalam, for instance, didi, I hear, is replaced by chechi etc). There are many girls/women, who don’t call their brothers by name, and instead call them “bhai”. The list — and its ramifications — is endless.

So, my question is: why can’t I be called by my name — without everyone going into paroxysms of horrified “Oh, but that’s so disrespectful!”?

Why is it okay to be whittled down to a one-in-a-trillion generic like mom, or mum, or mummy, or mama (I’m not even getting into forms of generics for ‘mothers’ that exist in other languages) and not feel slighted — when you have your own unique brand?

In western societies, I love the fact that folks are way less uptight about namecalling. It’s standard procedure to call in-laws, for instance, by their first names; or an older sibling… or a younger one. There’s no need to always rub in it your face that you are inhabiting some ageist or generational or ‘politically correct’ bubble. While I was airing this view once, someone asked, “Would you be okay if your child called you Sushmita?”

“Absolutely,” I responded. “If I had a child, I would, in fact, ensure he/she called me by my name.”

“But that’s terrible,” that person ranted. “Why would you encourage a child to not respect you?”

“If a child grows up to be a murderer or a drug dealer, that’s being disrespectful to society,” I embarked on a rant, but they cut me short forthwith with a collective shaking of heads.

I gathered: I may be cursing someone under my breath while referring to him/her in “respectable” terms, and that’s fine. But if I genuinely love and respect someone and call them by their name, I’m crossing the lines of decency.


When my niece was born, my first thought was not, cool, I’m now an aunt. It was a shuddering realisation that, OMG, she will (once she’s voluble) probably address me as “pishi” — which is what Bengalis call their aunts from the paternal side.

I had a serious chat with my brother and sister-in-law. Can she be tutored so that she calls me by my name?

Of course not, they expostulated in unison. That would be so disrespectful.

Later, my sister-in-law agreed to meet me “halfway”. She (my niece) will call me P (yes, which vocalises as “pee”). Not pishi.

Obviously, I needed to pose the following question to sister-in-law: “It’s okay to be called something that sounds like one needs to use the restroom, but not by my perfectly-nuanced name?”

“Yes,” she said. “Take it or leave it.”

I finally agreed to the compromise because I reckoned P, with all its innuendos, was still a darn sight better than pishi.

My friends’ kid — when he first started talking — used to call his parents by their names. I thought it was amazing. Even they thought it was cute. “He’s little,” they laughed indulgently. “He doesn’t know what he’s saying, he’ll straighten out in no time.”

But what if he doesn’t straighten out and continues to call you by your names, I immediately wanted to know.

“In that case, he will then get a tight slap and asked to accord us our rightful status,” they replied together.

I know now that I cannot change the world and its name-calling mission. But I really cringe when even kids refer to me as “aunty”. It somehow makes me feel like the other party’s from Mars and I’m from Venus. So when I met my friend’s 19-year-old daughter recently, and she began a conversation with “Aunty…”, I begged her, “Please don’t call me aunty.”

“Can I call you Sush then?”

“Absolutely!” I beamed.

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