Every human being has to be named … and there are many conventions for naming a person depending on the place (s)he lives in. As a result, when people move from one place to another, they may fall in weird situations. Here are some of my personal experiences.
Let’s first start with my own name. My full name has a part which is very unusual to most of the people in Earth – the “Md.” part. But, in Bangladesh, there are many people with this “Md.” in-front of their names. It actually represents “Mohammed”. There is a little history for such a naming. When Bangladesh was a part of undivided India (before 1947), the two major religions in that area was Islam and Hinduism. Hinduism was the oldest and original religion of India. Islam came here via Persian/Mongol rulers, mainly in the regime of Mughals. Traditional Hindu males used to put the word “Shree” in front of their names. Following that same culture, Muslim males in this region used to put “Mohammad”, the name of the prophet — just to show themselves quite different from Hindu believers. In 1947, the greater India was divided into two countries — India and Pakistan; a Hindu and Muslim majority country respectively. At that time, Bangladesh was a part of Pakistan (It became independent in 1971). A big migration ensued this religion based division, where numerous Muslims migrated to Pakistan and Hindus to India. Soon, they started to discover themselves in a religion-wise much denser place. As a result, the way of naming “Mohammad” as first name soon became boring. That time, intelligent mothers started to shorten their boys’ name from “Mohammad” to “Md.” to give room for creativity while coping with the social pressure. As my mother is very intelligent, I received that part of the name as a splendid gift from my family. For that, now in USA, I enjoy an unusual prestige of being called as “Dr. Tanveer” without a PhD.
While shortening the name, people usually adds a little period (“.”) after the “Md” part. The original intention was to show that this is an acronym. Now with the advent of internet and information technology, this small unassuming period started to become a giant devil. While designing Human-Computer Interfaces, the wise HCI specialists decided that human names should not contain any symbols other than the English vowels and consonants. As a result, I needed to trim off this radius-less circle from my name while putting it online via a web-form. On the other hand, all of my physical documents, e.g. passport, certificates, transcripts etc. contain it. So when a dumb machine tries to match my name from those two documents, it is usually inevitable that, it starts off an alarm with rotating red lights and calls for human intervention. When I appeared for the GRE examination to come to USA for continuing my higher studies, I went to a place named American Alumni Association in Dhaka to register for GRE. Following my passport, they somehow managed to put a period in the name. Now when I tried to log in to the GRE website, for sending the scores to universities, I failed to do so repeatedly. Later, I realized that the name field is not allowing me to put the period in while they actually have the period stored in the system. I needed to resolve that by calling to ETS at midnight in Bangladeshi time.
Another problem Bangladeshis usually face is the convention of first-name and last-name. In western societies, last name usually refers to the name of the family. In Bangladesh, the convention is “As You Wish”. People are named in a plethora of ways. My grand father’s name was “Md. Golam Rabbani”, my father’s name “Md. Akhtar Jalil”, my brother’s name is “Md. Shahriar Tanveer” and my nephew’s name “Ahnaf Shahriar”. No, there is no typo … there is literally no notion of family names in our family. In some family, there are … but in a weird way. One of my friend’s first-name and last-name is “Amin Ali”. In his father and brother’s case, it is “Amin Ali” as well. How do they differentiate among themselves? By middle-names. His name is “Amin Ahsan Ali”. His father’s and brother’s name is “Amin Mohammad Ali” and “Amin Masud Ali”. Interesting, isn’t it? One of the international student advisers in University of Memphis once asked me, “How do you refer to a family if you don’t have a family name?” I answered – “It’s easy. Just say Mr. X and his family”. There is a funny story with one of my ex-labmate. His name is Salahuddin Mohammad Masum. His wife’s name is Sefat-e-Rob. Now, Sefat-e-Rob actually forms an Arabic sentence meaning “Rob’s Daughter Sefat”. So, Rob is actually her father’s name. Now when she had a baby, the doctors named my lab-mate as “Mr. Rob” and their baby as “Baby Rob”. I don’t know how it feels as a western person but we, Bangladeshis, burst out in laughs with such a naming. My labmate told, it is funny to be named after your Father-in-Law.
Weirdness in naming and titles is not only abundant in Bangladesh. Once I was writing an email and asked one of my American friend that if I want to start my email with a politer salutation than just the bare name, how should I do that? Does something like “Dear Miss X” looks fine? He replied that, “If she is unmarried, you should write Miss X, if married then Mrs X and if widow then Ms X”. After listening to this, I just used her bare name. I should give her a little privacy about her family life.