Reading “Anil’s Ghost” for the South Asian Reading Challenge* I had an eerie feeling . There were no details from Anil’s past or present to help me identify her in terms of her Sri Lankan past beyond what she seemed willing to reveal. And that was very little…
The name, especially the name. Her given name –a boy’s name she had chosen for herself and bought from her brother. Her surname that tells the reader no more than Portuguese roots may suggest that her family was neither part of the Sinhala majority or the Tamil minority but … When I tried to trace a Tissera family and their relations I was attempting to materialize Anil's ghost (one of her ghosts to be more precise). But I was not able to find many clues. Not because the European surname but because Ondaatje chose on purpose a name that will be hard to attach to a specific family. Had he chosen a name such as Fonseca,De Saram or Da Silva it would have been much easier for me to incorporate the imaginary character within the histories of a real family, ethnic group etc. **
Why my obsession with the name? After all ,
“what's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
Shakespeare, as usual. Take it out of the context and you may wonder as I do – when did we came to act so casual towards names?
Names used to be magic. You recall the way Adam participated to the act of Creation by naming animals and plants.
It was customary to baptize again a child considered sickly or unlucky because it was believed that the bearer of a new name is going to be a new person as well.
Emigrants to the new world would often change their names in order to become members of a new nation, new culture and often, a new language.
In South Asia surnames often indicate one’s caste or social status.
In many European countries people took the name of the trades they were passing down from generation to generation to define their family trees.
But how often do you think about your name as it were no different than what you are. The culture. The self. The person. How often do you wonder, what's in my name?
I had done it quite often recently, because I am like Anil. I am occupying a “dis-located” position in terms of
my nationality: no longer Romanian but white or South Asian or Hispanic or… (depending on the eye of the beholder)
my family: each time I try to pull it around me and wear it as a proud denomination it keeps on crumbling, fragmented, spread all over the world.
my name: Ana is nowadays such a common name – it could be Hispanic, Italian, or add an "n" and it is British, Scandinavian, Hungarian...
or Romanian. And, in Romanian, Ana turned to be gender neutral as it turned into a gender exclusive name living no option for the possible male offspring but to be born female.( It used to be anna, annas).
As for my surname: well I had to Google that too, because I am still (and in spite of it all I read) a classic when it comes my obsession for the notions of self and identity. But the results were not defined by one language – it seems that the same three phonemes were chained one to another by different tongues and different cultures to call
actions, weapons, brewery tools,
volume units for liquid, time.
Malaysian princes , a Swedish Model, a British sculptor.
Some of my own ancestors among whom one is the mayor of a village, lost now but
once the nest of a blooming Neolithic civilization.
An ill reputed Chinese writer
– ill reputed from my point of view because he was a member of the Communist party,
fortunately this is only one and the least usual transcription of his name-
and , why not?
part of the valley of the Thousand Buddha Caves and singing sands.
of mixed blood, the offspring of contingency call me Ana, Anaïs, Ieronim
or ,if you wish, you could call me