Albert Einstein. Oprah Winfrey. Teddy Roosevelt. Veerapandiya Kattabomman. Nelson Mandela. Mammootty.
What is common to all these luminaries, apart from the obvious fact that they were all incredibly successful in their respective fields?
The answer I’m looking for is not a trivial one like, “Ooh, all of them have been suspected to be members of the Priory of Sion!”. They probably are, so what?
Nor do I want you to do a classic quizzer style, “Basically the funda is.. When Albert Einstein’s funeral happened in Cologne, in what happens to be the tallest cathedral in Europe, a little birdie, incidentally called Oprah, dropped a seed on the priest’s head, which caused a rose velt in the shape of South Africa, which inspired Mandela’s struggles and incidentally, Mammootty is slated to play Mandela in a forthcoming movie. As for Kattabomman, haha hoho, the connect is obvious, isn’t it?”
Yes, I know people who talk like that.
But I’m looking for something far simpler. What jumps out as you peruse the names of these great people?
The simple fact that their names are all reasonably unique!
Let us do an experiment now – think of any random 5 people whom you consider great. Yes, I know that you have thought of Sachin Tendulkar, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, William Shakespeare and Rajnikanth.
Quickly analyzing these people,
1. Sachin Tendulkar – Clearly not a common surname. The only other Marathi Tendulkars I know are Vijay Tendulkar, the late playwright and Ajit Tendulkar, who happens to be Sachin’s brother. And of course we all know Dr. Anjali Tendulkar, Sara Tendulkar and Arjun Tendulkar.
Even though Indian couples went on a rampant mission from late-90s to about 2010 to name their kid Sachin, they could obviously not change the surname to Tendulkar.
2. Mother Teresa – Critics of my theory might have been waiting for this one with ammunition. “There are so many Teresas in this world!”, yes I can hear you shout, critic. “Dude, have you forgotten St. Teresas?”, that was a Mallu critic from Cochin, referring to the hallowed college in the city only for girls.
But give me the benefit of doubt, critics. This person Mother Teresa, great though she may be, had been carrying out her impressive work under a false name. One does not know why she did that, but Bengali pronunciation of her real name might or might not have been involved.
Agnes Gonaxha Bojaxhiu. That was her real name.
Now tell me how many Bojaxhius live down your block.
3. Mahatma Gandhi – One must immediately remove the Nehru-kid and her descendants from the picture as they clearly stole the surname. If you are a Nehru, you are a Nehru. You can’t decide to change your name to Gandhi overnight. Hell, should Ashish Nehra change his name to Ashish Gandhu overnight?
In any case, there exists several assorted descendants of Mohandas Karamchand, including Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Arun Gandhi and so on. There used to be a cricketer called Devang Gandhi, who was mostly crap.
But as can clearly be seen, not many Gujaratis are Gandhis. Not even a Gandhi-Patel hyphenated surname pops up into memory. This is a telling blow as the X-Patel hyphenated surname is getting particularly common in Gujarat (Modi-Patel, Shah-Patel etc..) and fittingly enough, most of them are Ex-Pats also. But no, no Gandhi-Patel.
4. William Shakespeare – While writing ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with much ado and what not, the great man slipped in these lines..
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”
..And then immediately signed the whole thing with his own very unique name. This remains one of the world’s earliest known instances of effective irony and possibly even megalomaniac dark humour.
5. Rajnikanth – And finally, we come to the greatest of them all. What caused an ordinary bus conductor, Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, to become an extraordinary being of mostly human looks, Rajnikanth? We don’t know, but rest assured that it is a very unique name. The last known Rajnikanth (of the human variety) in Tamil Nadu was forced to change his name by a mob of angry Rajnikanth fans, and given to Karnataka in exchange of three 1 litre bottles of Cauvery water.
One can keep repeating this experiment several times, but it would almost always throw up the same result – if a fellow is famous enough to be referred to as a ‘great’, it is likely that he has a rare given name or surname. Shah Rukh, Sreesanth, Roger Federer, Diego Armando Maradona, Lionel Messi, J.R.R. Tolkien, Justin Bieber..
If anyone mentions Sir Alex Ferguson, I will look at them in a very pointed manner. Yes, this can also be an exceptionally good ‘Greatness Test’. If your name ain’t rare, you ain’t so great, Fergie.
So naturally, the question now is – if your name happens to be something extremely ordinary, like Rahul Sharma, or Rajat Gupta (infamy does not count), or S. Praveen Kumar, what are the odds that you would end up being great?
Unfortunately as it stands, next to none.
But as is the case for every disease, there is a cure, which might turn out to be reasonably effective or not. You can choose to change part of your name.
This has been done to great success by several people with fairly ordinary names, who had recognized the futility of having ordinary names quite early on in their career. Two prime examples remain Ramdev and Ravi Shankar.
Baba Ramdev was a masterful twist, as we see the fellow’s legacy being built these days. Ravi Shankar went an extra step, adding a Sri Sri to reiterate his greatness. Sri Ravi Shankar somehow sounds nothing more than an ordinary Ravi Shankar being referred to with a modicum of respect or in his wedding invitation.
A very important thing to note at this point would be the sheer ineffectiveness of a mere spelling change. The people of the Bollywood have tried this and needless to say, such experiments have ended in abject failure. We still don’t care two hoots about Viveik Oberoi.
So I’ll wrap up by wishing you ordinary name-carriers the very best in changing your name and thus taking a real step towards your goal of greatness.