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Paul Vadakumpadan, Guwahati says,
What`s in a Name?
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Guwahati, Feb. 16. When I was a little boy, my mother took me for admission to a local school. Thank God this was many years ago, when there was no rush for admissions. Moreover, there was no such thing as commercialised education or even if there was, the common people did not know about it. Anyway, I got admission for the asking.

What`s in a Name?

When I was a little boy, my mother took me for admission to a local school. Thank God this was many years ago, when there was no rush for admissions. Moreover, there was no such thing as commercialised education or even if there was, the common people did not know about it. Anyway, I got admission for the asking. I can still remember a clerk writing down my name in a register. He asked me my name, my father`s name and family name. Then with the wisdom of Solomon, he declared that I would be called V.V. Paul. While getting admission was great, that declaration of his was disastrous. I have ever since regretted the entry he made about half a century ago in that register, which reduced me to two letters of the alphabet.

I believe that the poor clerk was only following the practice of the day. But what an abominable practice! From VV Paul it became Paul VV, which in turn was shortened to Paul V, which was read by someone as Paul the Fifth. Sacrilegious!  I am told this practice has since been abandoned. But the sons and daughters of Don Bosco in India seem reluctant to accept the change. Recently I saw an invitation to the jubilee of a person, belonging to our religious family.  I saw printed on it the person`s name, father`s name and a U, all in equally big letters. Presumably the U was the short form of the person`s full name, call it house name, surname, clan name, whatever. At this rate, I am afraid the alphabets will rise in revolt against us and will take away their three members (SDB) from us because we are insulting them with usages such as Paul V and Brother U.  Before such a tragedy happens, let us correct ourselves and stop this regrettable way of treating the letters of the alphabet, and even more regrettable way of treating people.

As a young priest student in Rome, the first thing I noticed was that the two letters of the alphabet, which was how I was called till then, were unacceptable totally and absolutely. Everyone, whether the policeman at the questura, the clerk at the biglietteria, or the professors at the university, all wanted my full name with all its twelve letters. They took time to write it down, did so correctly and those who needed to pronounce it did so amazingly well. Later back in India, I had a pleasant surprise. I had gone to a hospital for a check-up (unnecessary in hindsight). I was given a form to fill in. I wrote my name with those two pitiful letters of the alphabet. Bad habits die hard. After a few minutes, I was paged. The office that was processing the form would not accept such stupidities. Even the computer refused to proceed further. I was asked, politely and firmly, to give my full name.

A name is only a name. It could have been any other. That`s it, it could have been but it is not. Every one of us belongs to a family, a clan, a village/town etc. God gave us that identity and it must be respected. As far as God himself is concerned, he does not need to be told too many details. That is why when we pray for the Pope during Mass, we just say Benedict. Our heavenly Father knows how many Benedicts there have been already.  Human beings will need to know something more about their fellow humans. And certainly, not two letters of the alphabet.  

A useful resolution we could take as we celebrate 150 years of our religious family is to learn the full names of the members of this family.  It may be seemingly as simple as Joseph Ng in China or as long as Chacko Naduvilethevarakkattil in another part of the world or as special as Karol Wojtla, pronounced in a way that has little to do with the way it is written or as unpronounceable as  Kaisü Pfokhrührü.
Fr. Paul Vadakumpadan SDB


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