Why indigenous names are finding a new calling in Manipur

By Tora Agarwala

Published on 3rd June 2018 by IndianExpress, one of the popular Indian daily newspaper.

Excerpts from the article:

For Monica Ingudam, a 41-year-old Maryland-based Manipuri IT professional, home is far but certainly not forgotten. In 2012, she launched a podcast, findingthevoices.com, in a bid to bring together the voices of scattered Manipuris from around the world and — “ to change the stereotypical narrative, to let the world know that there are positive stories that come out of Manipur too,” she says. Ingudam’s case can be a choice example of a recent voluntary trend observed among young Manipuris trying to reconnect with their roots. “When we are outside of Manipur, we do our best to blend in. For example, we rarely wear our traditional attire. But things are beginning to change now. We want to hold on to our identity,” says Ingudam.

Waikhom Phajatombi Devi, an Imphal-based government employee and a mother of two, has named her son “Mangaal”, which in Meiteilon, means light. “Many of my friends and relatives are adopting indigenous names for their kids. My cousin in the US recently named his son ‘Marjing’ meaning ‘god of polo’. It’s a way to project our identity,” she says, adding that this trend really picked up about six years back.

There are still other ways in which these names are misconstrued outside Manipur. A traditional Meitei name, like Waikhom’s has three parts: the surname, the first (personal) name, and at the end, a gender identifier which could be Singh (for males)/Devi (for females) or Meitei (for males)/Chanu (for females). “These are suffixed to the actual name of the person to indicate gender. So when the mainstream media refers to certain people (especially sportspersons) as ‘Devi’ or ‘Chanu’, it is really as good as saying ‘Mr’ or ‘Miss’,” says Ingudam. She also feels traditional names have resurfaced after skipping one generation. “So my parents’ generation had ethnic  Manipuri names, most people from my generation have Hindu/Christian names — and now the next generation is seeing traditional names again,” she says.

Pradip Phanjoubam, editor, Imphal Free Press, feels that the young middle class begin to question their identity more when they travel outside of Manipur for higher studies. “This is where their sense of alienation begins — which leads them to project their identity even more strongly. They tend to think, ‘If I’m different, let me be different’,” he says. The resurgence of the traditional name could be a manifestation of that.

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