What’s in a name? Everything!

My parents decided to name me Arunan. As I grew up, I realized it means the sun, may be more precisely the ‘rising sun’. I also realized, my name would be shortened in most parts of India, perhaps except Kerala and Tamil Nadu, to Arun, which is a lot more common name. I also found some others named ‘Arunachalam’. This is one of the names of Shiva, and in particular the deity in Thiruvannamalai is called ‘Arunachaleswar’. Super star of Tamil movies, Rajni Kant made a movie titled ‘Arunachalam’ in which he is called by everyone as ‘Arunachalam’. As most of you may be aware, Rajni Kant is not his real name and he was christened so by Director K. Balachander. Would Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, as Rajni Kant was named by his parents, have been as successful in Tamil movies?

I had seen some Arunachalams preferring to be called ‘Arun’. Shortened names are very common. However, I found some of them preferred this short name, as they thought ‘Arunachalam’ was too old-fahioned. I could almost sense that they felt some shame in their name. I am not sure if I learned it from some one or I was made like this. I had never been ashamed of my name or color or religion or native or sex or mother tongue etc… One should never be ashamed of the many things that come with one’s birth. We didn’t have any choice, did we. However, it seems like many fall for this trap and feel ashamed about things that came with their birth. The movie ‘Nameshake’ is about the struggle the hero goes through because of the name given by Bengali parents living in north america! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Namesake_(film) When you understand that you cannot be ashamed of everything that came with your birth, you realize, you cannot be proud about these either!

I was amused to read the news about China giving Chinese names to some of the cities in Arunachal Pradesh. Like Arunan becomes Arun in north India, Arunachalam becomes Arunachal. This is one of the seven northeastern states which have been integral part of India. China considers this part of their territory and so they have given names in Chinese for some of the cities in this Indian State! How else can one claim territory? Naming cities is important! What was really amusing to me is the experience from my visit to Beijing in 2004, my first visit to China. The 24th International Symposium on Shock Waves was held there. (The 25th one was hosted by us in Bangalore). Beijing is actually called Peking in China and I shouldn’t forget how we call the city we live in now, Bengaluru! We were visiting the Great Wall of China and other tourists places and we had some guides. All the guides had their Chinese names, but would tell the tourists some English names like Jim, John or Jack. I asked the Guide who came with us his Chinese name and used that to address him. I was wondering if they are becoming tourist friendly. Wouldn’t it be great to tell the tourists their real name and help them pronounce it? I have seen many other Chinese youth, giving themselves a simple western name! May be they thought it is important to have a simple western name to make more money! I always insisted that people call me Arunan, which wasn’t very long anyway!

My home state is called Tamil Nadu. It was part of the Madras presidency which included all of Tamil Nadu and parts of Kerala, Karnataka and Andrapradesh, when India got independence! Apparently, when India decided to accept the new name, Rajaji had suggested that the name be spelled Tamil Nad so that it will be easy for others to pronounce it. Ma Po Si (M P Sivagnanam) insisted that the name be kept Tamil Nadu, which is how it should be pronounced in Tamil. Bengaluru and Mysuru have realized this and changed the spellings in their names recently. So have Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. Changing your name for the rest of the world is akin to losing your identity! Naming the cities and states are indeed important.

Interestingly, there was a paper published in physics recently that generated a frenzy in the world of science and stories screamed ‘Physicists have created negative mass’! Magazines explained it by describing what it could do. If you push particles with positive mass, they move away as the force is acting in that direction. If the particles were to have negative  mass, when you push them, they would come towards you! Lately, I see that there is some news or other about Science always. Print, television, social media etc… need 24 X 7 news, which they cannot have. I wonder how anyone can expect ‘newsworthy’ discoveries in Science to report 24 X 7! Sensationalizing has spoiled news reporting in every field and Science has not escaped this as well. Sabine Hossenfelder from Frankfurt Institute for Advance Studies finally took some time to read the paper and has pointed out that the paper should not have in it’s title ‘Negative mass’ What the authors have reported is more like ‘negative effective mass’ and the authors have given a misleading title! (http://backreaction.blogspot.in/2017/04/no-physicists-have-not-created-negative.html). She says there’s a world of difference between ‘negative mass’ and ‘negatice effective mass’. Naming things properly is indeed important!

When we published our first paper with experimental data measured with a home-built microwave spectrometer, we got in to problems with a reviewer about the title. The paper discussed a weakly bound complex between ethylene and hydrogen sulphide and we had called the structure ‘hydrogen bonded’. One referee objected, though agreed that the paper deserves to be published. At that time, we were in no mood to argue and changed the title to ‘bridging hydrogen bonding and van der Waals interaction’. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000926140400867X) However, the referee’s comments about the title intrigued me enough to read about hydrogen bonds from papers, books and reports published over a century. In the end, I contacted IUPAC and with their suggestion, formed and chaired a task group to redefine hydrogen bonding! (https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/pac.2011.83.issue-8/pac-rec-10-01-02/pac-rec-10-01-02.xml) Naming phenomenon appropriately is indeed important.

Whenever I mention about defining hydrogen bond, many have mentioned ‘What’s in a name?, What difference does it make, how we call it? and so on…! Shakespeare comes in handy and Romeo and Juliet will be quoted “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” I can’t believe a Government would name a police force intended for stopping harassment of women as ‘anti-Romeo squad’. Were they influenced by the colloquial reference to such guys (lover boys) as ‘Romeo’ or is there an attempt to make ‘harassment of women’ a foreign culture? Some time ago, one such leader said ‘Rape happens in India and not in Bharath’. Most of us had no clue, what he was talking about. No wonder some have objected to this naming. Romeo was a true lover and he never harassed anyone!

I have become a scientist and I have not read Shakespeare! I like to quote Richard Feynmann, an outstanding physicist from 20th Century! He said “You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing — that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.” When you can give an appropriate name for a person, city, state, phenomenon, etc… you really understand what you are talking about. Naming then, is indeed important!