A girl named ambulance

Police Bazaar, heart of Meghalaya capital Shillong

THE AMBULANCE wailed, as if to outperform the baby born in it.

That was on April 25, as the emergency vehicle weaved its way to a hospital. From Mylliem to Meghalaya’s capital Shillong, some 10 km downhill.

Last Wednesday, the ambulance and the baby had another thing in common besides the wailing – their name.

In all probability, little EMRIshisha won’t mind her name – derived from Emergency Management and Research Institute that runs the ambulances – when she grows up. The part of India she was born in has scores of people with funnier, more outlandish names.

For 20-something Delin Kharnongkhlaw, naming her daughter after the institute that runs the ambulance service was “the least I could do”. She was grateful that the service helped her deliver “my daughter safely” despite complications.

Names in Meghalaya began changing – often ridiculously – from traditional to English-sounding (or hybrid) after the Khasi-Jaintia-Garo hills were brought under the Raj 150 years ago. Subsequent conversion to Christianity added to the craze for Sahib-like names.

Some Brits toyed with the ignorance of those ‘natives’ enamored of anything English. Thus, someone with a name like Toilet Marbaniang never thought much about what his name meant in the Sahib’s tongue. Neither did three sisters named Institute, Constitute and – believe it or not – Prostitute Ghonglah.

Some names were convenient for the missionaries during baptism. Like Firstborn for the first child born to a couple (it saved the trouble of thinking too much about names for the next issues). Or by a baby’s weight – Sevenstone Lyngwa, Elevenstone Dkhar and so on.

The easiest way to get unusual names in Meghalaya is to go through the list of contestants during elections – civic, tribal council or assembly. I hunted for such names during the council polls in February this year.

One of the winners was Man Sturdy Nongrem, as if to suggest a brawny name and not muscle power helps win the battle of the ballot. One of his rivals was Six Schediew Syiemlieh. Did he remind tribal council polls fall under the Sixth Schedule of India’s Constitution?

Strength, though, let Strong Pillar Tang down. Courage, likewise, misfired for Boldness L Nongum. Goodwill did not guarantee win, as Copiousness Daw and Fullness Siangshai found out. ‘Lineage’, on the other hand, saw Goodleaderson Nongsiej through while ditching Headerson Symbai.

Some names were misleading. Dunno Nongpluh was pretty much sure why he was victorious. But Losing Lakuna lived up to his name, as did Kilometer Lytan, winning by a long distance.

Then there was ‘European’ Hollando Lamin who ran over his ‘Asian’ rival Lebanon Pohthmi. But Lamin’s ‘continental friend’ Poland K Ryja had to bite the dust.

If you think these names are uproarious, you haven’t heard of Hilarius Warbah, who lost laughing. Ending up with him were Return Sna, Finelyness Bareh, Helping Phawa, Forward L Mawlong, Fasterwell Marbaniang, Pretty Kharpyngrope, Friction Thangkhiew. And among the other winners were Artist Ranee, Blooming Lyngdoh and Welcome Dkhar.

Do you have some more Blooming or Pretty good names? You are Welcome to Forward them so I can Return the compliments as Fasterwell as possible. Thangkhiew.


About rahconteur

A mid-career journalist who's worked horizontally across India - from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat
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15 Responses to A girl named ambulance

  1. Ketaki says:

    The EMRIsha story is touching….but I think we non Meghalyans need to do a little more research into the origin of some of the names…particularly the surnames…what seems funny or even ridiculous to us may actually be because of the westernisation of a local name that means something else to them….thangkhiew is a case in point…. it is not pronounced as thank you but as thaangkoo…. which means something in Khasi……

    • rahconteur says:

      Was aware of the pronunciation but just couldn’t resist the pun without, of course, malicious intent. My apologies to all who possess that surname. The matrilineal system in Meghalaya often leads to creation of new clans, and that adds to the surnames. Minus the English derivatives, the original Khasi, Jaintia and Garo names do carry meanings and are quite nice to know.

  2. Amitava says:

    An ever-weird phenomenon. And brilliant picks from the fertile soil of your terrain. After reading this, people might just believe me when I say I’d neighbours named Cosmonostica, Astronomica and Gogol in a south Calcutta suburb.

    • rahconteur says:

      Thanks. What’s in a name, some crazy Englishman (could be American, Australian, Welsh, Scot, Irish…) had asked. Well, at least there’s a lot for us to blog or write about.

  3. Mrinal Talukdar says:

    Great. But I presume the EMRI is your own idea

    • rahconteur says:

      No sir. Go through the back issues of The Shillong Times and you will find the report on celebration of 108 days of the 108 ambulance service in Shillong. The girl was ‘baptised’ there.

      • rahconteur says:

        Great Wordsmyth. For us scribes, the name game is a recyclable story every election. The names you have are fantastic.

  4. Wordsmyth says:

    The raconteur is right MT. Emrishisha is actually the name of a little Khasi lass; but I am quite sure that she is not the last. There is sufficient scope for Emrilynn, Emriwanshisha, Emribok (if it is a boy), Emrishngain.

    I once wrote a middle based on a little boy whose mother brought him into the world in the cab of an army truck better known in fauji parlance as a “One Tonne.” When his father, an army driver brought around the celebratory dabba of sweets and beamed he had named his last born after the truck that had ‘delivered the goods,’ in a manner of speaking – I presumed the boy had been called Nissan – for that is the company that used to manufacturer those petrol guzzling warhorses. To my incredulity, though it was nothing of the sort – the father (whose name, incidentally was Ludwigson Marak) had christened his man child – hold your breath – “Wanton!”

    If you were scanning the ticker in the recent past, you could not have missed “Comingone” who is very much a part of the KHADC. At first I thought it was a case of “come ‘n’ gone” until I was corrected by a poker-faced clansman that he was the “Coming One!”

    For sheer brilliance, there could be no beating “Euhighness Lyngdoh” whose establishment dealing, I think in automobile parts, proudly proclaims his Royal Highness’ name on the facia of the building in Mawlai.

    It is not necessarily only in English that there are howlers. If you learn the lingo sufficiently – as I have been in the very recent past – there are names that waffle, snaffle and baffle!

    Consider the name “Laklet Dohtdong” – which transliterated means “I forgot — Tail of the Meat!”

    And I cannot forget the name of a Piscean girl child born in the Civil Hospital in Tura – her parents called her “Marchyfifteen Sangma” – no prizes for guessing her birth date!

  5. Utpal Borpujari says:

    Great read, though coming from the region, am aware of this unique nomenclatures. But can you beat this – once, while going through the Gauhati High Court’s ‘Cause List’ (which used to come to our house every evening since my father was the Registrar Judicial then at the HC), I found a case titled “High Court vs Govt of Nagaland”. I found it quite strange, as why would a govt file a case against the High Court, the dispenser of justice. Even my father found it strange. Next day he enquired and found out that “High Court” was actually a Naga man! So, maybe, you can extend your research to other regions of NE India too.

  6. Nandini R Iyer says:

    Hey rahul,

    I just came back from Madras where I met a man called Maulana Abul Kalam Tilak Senthil. I’m sorry I cant remember his initials which in true south indian style preceded his name. I’ve also met a NetajiSubhashChandraBose Subramaniam who was all of 10 years old and a Mohsina Jawaharlal Besant Alagamuthu who was a man.
    Closer home in Delhi, its quite possible to meet a 6ft three inch tall strapping Sardar whose “good name” as opposed to his “pet name” is Sweety Singh or Pinky Singh.

    great blog love it. Nandini R Iyer

    • rahconteur says:

      Thanks. Those guys you mention have elevated names, but I am sure they wouldn’t like to be called Madrasis…

  7. Richa Bansal says:

    Of course I am aware that these names exist, and how! But nonetheless made for some great reading, and still has me amused in the middle of a hectic lazy afternoon at work.

  8. MomoLover says:

    Among the sitting legislators who were defeated this Assembly elections were people with first name as Founder Strong, Dr. Adviser, Frankenstein, Adolf Hitler… the list goes on.

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