Saturday, October 6, 2012

What's your name?

This past August marks 11 years of ministry in India for us!  Wow!  Doesn't that sound like forever?  It feels like forever at times too!  After living in a culture this many years, parts of everyday life that may have seemed strange and weird to us when we first arrived, have become a part everyday life.  We used to stare at families of four riding on a bicycle together, but now we don't give them a passing glance.  So many things I could share like that, but the fact is, you live, you adjust, you become accustomed.  I say all that to say this, if there is any one who has a question about Indian life and culture, or about our life specifically, that they would be like me to address on this blog, please leave a comment here on the blog, on my Facebook page, or send me a message or email.  If possible I will answer your questions. 
A bride and groom with extended family

 Now for a part of Indian culture that still amuses me, at times.  What is your name?  What do people call you, refer to you as?  Here in India, most people are in the habit of using respectful titles and language, when referring to others.  Some people are very strict about it, and would become offended if they felt you were talking down to them, by not using the proper titles of respect.  So, what does that mean?  Let me try to make it simple (if possible).

Family relations:
Each relationship in the family has a name, and it is not as simple as our English "Aunt and Uncle" or "Grandmother and Grandfather".  Your father's parents are called "Dada and Dadi" while your mother's parents are "Nana and Nani".  Your father's brothers are called "Chacha" while your mother's brothers are called "Mama". This can get confusing when you throw in your father's brother's wife, your mother's sisters, and your in-laws!    Getting the picture?  I still get confused about what to call some family relations, but if you could master this system, you would instantly know how someone is related by the name they use for that person.  You wouldn't have to ask if it was mother's side, father's side, elder or younger.  But, a title, like "Chacha" can be used for someone who is not your actual relative, but an older man who is close to the family.

First name:
It is considered disrespectful to call someone by their first name.  The only people you would call by their first names, would be children, a close friend, who is close in age to you, or someone who is considered in a lower position than you such as, a servant, employee, or student.  So, you have to be careful about using first names.  So, what do you call someone?  Many people use the terms for sister and brother (didi and bhai).  Or, you can refer to someone by the job they do.  We have a neighbor who is a mason, so people call him the Hindi word for "mason".  A man in our church sells vegetables for a living, so everyone calls him the vegetable seller.  A lot of husbands and wives don't refer to each other by their first names, and it's not because they use a term of endearment.  It is not considered polite by some to call your husband or wife by name.  A lot of times they will say "my husband" or "my wife".   Another way to refer to someone, which always amuses me, is to refer to them by the name of their child.  Our neighbor always to refers to her husband as "Sanjeev's father" (her son's name is Sanjeev).  It is very common, especially for mothers, to be referred to like this.  Sunil's mother, Prem's mother, Guddu's mother. 

So, what about us..the strangers, the foreigners...what are we called?  Since, we are considered teachers, as well as my husband being a pastor, besides our foreigner status, we are referred to by most people as "Sir" and "Madame".  Other pastors many times call my husband "Pastor Brian", and to some I am "Mrs. Brian".  There are a small handful of people in India that call me "Angela".   One family that does is our landlord and his wife.  Their children are our age, and they lived for many years in Western countries, so are accustomed to our way of speech.   Sometimes I miss having a name, but that's just me, I guess. 
Brian was talking on skype to his mom one day, and referred to me as "my wife".  His mom was indignant on  my behalf..."My wife?" "Don't you know what her name is?"   Ha Ha!  That made me laugh!  Just another way that we have adjusted to life here.

Post written by:  Madame...Mrs. Brian...Alyssa's mother...Angela


  1. "Jesus saith unto her, 'Mary.'" John20:16 How comforting it is to know that God knows our names and calls us by our name. Thank you for posting this, Angela!

  2. I had almost forgotten my name except for the fact that I had to sign a check the other day to pay the electric bill!!!