Indian pet names thumbnail

The Slow, Tragic Death of Pet Names

The relation between ‘Good Name’ and ‘Pet Name’ has always fascinated me.

I love the fact that in India, your pet name is not a shorter form of your name, like Bill for William, or Chris for Christopher. Our pet names are living entities by themselves.

Pet names are fairly popular in Orissa, and the names given are fairly common too. Boys are named Pappu, Babuna, Ricky, Kaalia, etc. Girls are called Mamuni, Kunmun, Munmun and Baby.

Giving a child its ‘Good Name’ is a fairly well documented process. There is a complex assortment of beliefs thrown in – Astrology, Numerology, position of the planets, and the mood of the local pujari on that particular day. There is a lot of thought given, a few options are thrown around, and finally, one name is picked. Your Good Name sticks with you for your life, it becomes who you are. It connotes an emotion every time your friends hear the name. Your name becomes you.

And I have a theory that educated Oriya parents of my generation gave their children distinctly long, dramatic names. Shiva Sundar, Debashish, Biswa Kalyan – most Oriya names are long-winding and theatrical. I often joke that it is educated Oriya people’s way of asserting their educated status over the rest of society.

I am no exception. Sai Hrudaya Ranjan is not exactly what you’d call a common name.


But how nick-names come to be, has always fascinated me.

Since in Orissa, there are a few commonly used pet names, you have about 10-12 choices, and a pragmatic name is allotted, probably keeping in mind that there’s no other Pappu, Ricky, or Mamuni around. A simple, informal, pragmatic solution.

There is no feeling of historic importance, no histrionics or ceremonies – a pet name sticks to you, a second identity of yours. The one you grow up with outside school, the one your childhood friends call you by.

Some guys have two pet names. One that is given at home, and one that their friends give them. The second pet names are generally not very flattering – Chamba, for example. Some are so bad, they can be interchanged with names of actual pets – Litton, Chepa, Tara, Moti.

I have met a wide vista of pet names in my life. From the ubiquitous ‘Pappu’, to the exotic ‘Lord’, pet names have flashed themselves across my timeline of memories. Chintu, Chimpa, Jhikki, Popuna, Bapuni, Tippul, Babool and Litton.

I have lost my heart to many a Munmun and Kunmun. Sang imaginary songs of love to Chulbul, careful to avoid her sister Bulbul. Written letters to Pinky, Rosy, Reena and Baby.

Pet names generally abided by a simple rule of thumb. They had to be short (maximum 2-3 syllables), easy to remember (Chepa, for example, leaves a distinct imprint), and unique (but not too unique, like Chamba).

Now, this is where I got a real raw deal.

Much of my childhood was determined by this one particular relative. They weren’t really related to us in anyway, but asserted an unbelievable amount of control over what I did. Someone there gave me the most fuckall pet name in the history of fuckall pet names – Puppu.

I remember when my folks would come to visit me at school, and we’d be walking in lines, when all of a sudden, a shrill voice would ring out,

‘Aye, Puuuupppppppppppppppppuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu……………’

A long, intense call that echoed in my ears for about five minutes. I remember being embarrassed by my pet name; I’d look down and walk as quickly as I could.

Folks at school had no idea about the pet name though, as we were referred to by our initials. And admittedly, SHR sounded remarkably more suave and nuanced than Puppu.


However, I have noticed a strange phenomenon of late.

Oriya people have started adopting strange, anglicised names for their children. I happened to teach at a school in Bhubaneswar for about six months, and the names I came across had no resemblance to the ones I had known.

They were all neutralised, shorn of any MTI – sterile names like Nivaan and Ayaan and Aman and Aabhya.

Of course, I have no right to comment about the names parents choose to give their children. I can’t sit like Bishen Singh Bedi, complain and crib. Naming your child is something you have complete rights over. That’s fine.

But it is the pet names that I am worried about.

Most of these modern names can double up as pet names as well. They are all short and unique, and assume the same importance at home and at school.

I doubt Aabhya, for example, would want to be referred to Bulbul? Nivaan is going to throw his iPhone 6 at your face if you call him Chepa.

In the way that smartphones ate into the market for alarm clocks, these modern names have extinguished the need for short pet names.

I am afraid in a few years, there will be no more Kalias in Bhubaneswar.

There will be no Tippul, with his group of friends on their bikes. No Bapuna hitting on Baby while texting Mamuni.

Pet names, I fear, will die a slow, sad death.


(Featured Image Courtesy: Pran’s characters Billoo and Pinky, Copyright Diamond Comics India Ltd.)

5 thoughts on “The Slow, Tragic Death of Pet Names

  1. Pk

    The alarming trend of picking up a unique name is showing no sign of abating. Just in the name of uniqueness they are giving weird names to baby. Sample this: Aahna and Ahan Khanna. These are two kids going to same kindergarten as my kid.

  2. Bhavishya

    Enjoyed reading this. Also, I feel you. haha. I think the same thing is probably happening with Telugu names. My parents generation had several pet names but mine doesn’t. Chinni, Bujji, Subbulu, Suji, Amulu, Chitti – all completely unrelated to the original names. Lol. India is losing its traditions. WESTERN CULTURE I SAY!

  3. Mohua

    Ha ha ha ! Hruday Ranjan,classically written,enjoyed thoroughly. The pet names will stay as college and hostels have a way of bestowing us with pet calls. May it reign for ever Puppu!

  4. Anonymous

    Superbly written…being a bengali I fully appreciate the spirit of each word Pupuuuuuuuuuuuuuun…Regards Jhumpyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.