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My wife, Malathi, and I have spent several weeks discussing names for our baby and we've finally agreed on something: We hate each other's choices.

At this rate, giving birth to the baby will be a lot easier than naming it. Only one person gives birth (thank goodness!), whereas, in some families, naming a baby can involve as many as 50, with suggestions pouring in from parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, co-workers, and even the idiot next door. The one who named his sons Laxman and Taxman. If he has a third son, he's already thought of a good name: Relaxman.

Luckily for us, no one else is suggesting names. But there are certainly enough names being tossed around. I never realized that name-selecting could produce so much name-calling. I don't know how many times I've had to defend my honor: "Hey! My name is Melvin. It starts with an 'm' and ends with an 'n' but I wish you'd stop confusing it with MORON."

If we don't decide on a name soon, we'll be forced to follow the tradition of some cultures: naming the baby after the loudest sound the mother makes in labor. How else do you think Oprah got her name? Her mother obviously meant to scream, "Oh pray!"

Among my wife's favorite names for girls is Tarangini. She considers it rather melodious, I consider it just odious. Tarangini. We might as well name the baby Tarantula. That sounds a lot better.

If your name happens to be Tarangini, please don't get angry with me. Get angry with your parents. They're the ones who named you.

Perhaps they weren't thinking straight. I'm not suggesting they were drinking, but that could explain why the word "gin" appears in your name.

Among my wife's favorite names for boys is Kashyap, a name that's almost as melodious as Tarangini. I can't help imagining the teasing he'd get at an American school cafeteria: "Hey, Kashyap! Please pass the ketchup." Not to mention the ribbing during running competitions: "Hey, Kashyap! Please catch up!"

Malathi has a theory why her "unenlightened" husband can't appreciate these beautiful names -- he didn't grow up reading literature in Tamil, Sanskrit and Bengali. "Just because you didn't learn to appreciate sounds in these languages doesn't mean these names aren't beautiful to the ears." She makes a good point. Now all she needs is a good name.

She believes that her favorite names may one day become universal, just as Indian names are gracing westerners such as Canadian humorist Chandra Clarke and Hollywood actress Uma Thurman. Malathi may be right, but I'll be absolutely stunned the day I meet a non-Indian named Tarangini.

Of course, I have no right to make fun of names, because my name is not only old-fashioned, it doesn't reflect my rich Indian heritage. But it's too late to change my name. I've been a Melvin for so many years, I don't want to suddenly turn into a Melvinder or Melvinathaman.

Malathi has convinced me that it's important to give our baby an Indian name. Though she likes some western names such as Olivia, she says, "I don't believe it's our role to propagate them." As far as I'm concerned, if we end up naming our baby Tarangini, we'll be done propagating!

(c) Copyright 2001 Melvin Durai. All Rights Reserved.

Melvin Durai is a U.S.-based writer and humorist. A native of India, he grew up in Zambia and moved to the U.S. in the early 1980s. Read his previous columns at http://www.melvindurai.com For a free subscription to his columns, send a blank mail to join-funnycolumns@relay.netatlantic.com



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