What’s in a difficult name?
By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN
I’m glad that Hery Rajaonarimampianina has been newly elected President of Madagascar (with 53.5 per cent of the vote). It’s a tonic for all people with difficult or challenging surnames, and I speak as one.
Before independence from France in 1960 Madagascar was once a kingdom, ruled by the likes of Kings Andriamasinavalona (1675–1710) and Andrianampoinimerina (1787–1810). By the 1850s there was a prime minister in office, one Rainivoninahitriniony (also apparently known simply as Raharo). The capital of the island state is of course Antananarivo. I don’t know how these names came to be, but they are wonderfully melodious, aren’t they?
In my case, it might have been easier to have been called something like John Self. My father used to urge me to ask people to pronounce our surname as if they were saying “Tower Hill”, i.e. Towerdin. I rarely acted on his advice – why compound the awkward-name situation by insisting that people pronounce it in a differently difficult way? As a consequence over the years I’ve had everything from “Tahoordini”, “Tahoudini” (that kind of makes sense – Houdini), “Towerdon”, “Touhardini” to people simply not even attempting to pronounce it. It’s never particularly bothered me – maybe it should have. Only in France and French-speaking countries do people generally have no difficulty with it.
The world seems a little short of long- or difficult-named politicians at the moment; at least, few come to mind. Maybe now that he’s out of a Russian jail, Mikhail Khodorkovsky will go into politics one day. But his surname trips off the tongue quite easily. Even Sri Lanka, usually good for long names, is currently governed by the simply named Mahinda Rajapaksa – not a Bandaranaike in sight.
But Sri Lanka has provided some good cricketers’ names over the years: Ranatunga, Jayasuriya, Tillakaratne, Jayawardene, Muralitharan (better known as Murali) – all very fine players incidentally. India, meanwhile, had an excellent spin bowling quartet in the 1970s which included Srinavas Venkataraghavan (he subsequently became an umpire). Unsurprisingly, he is better known as Venkat. Maybe he should run for office.