What's in a name?

Seriously. I actually talked to that guy on the phone Friday, and it was a complete cluster. Granted, he spoke English better than I spoke Hindi, but still -- I understood about every seventh word, and that word was usually "Yes?" which he repeatedly asked me after every unintelligible outburst.

It was brutally painful, and I found my desire to end the call rapidly beginning to outweigh my desire for other things like the answer to my question, or my continued life. He kept trying to get me to understand his e-mail address, and all I heard was someone gargling small rodents. It reminded me of the scene in Office Space where Samir says "No one in this country can ever pronounce my name right. It's not that hard: Samir Na-gheen-an-a-jar. Nagheenanajar."

I am not a student of history, geography, linguistics, or apparent glossolalia, but I found his name intriguing. It wouldn't be the first time Dell or Citibank or some other random company's phone system shuffled me off to India, but this was an overseas contracting company and I needed to straighten this system problem out. I knew I would get an Indian guy because it's an Indian company, but still -- when I saw the name, I realized I was suddenly ear to ear with someone who would have to buy four packages of rub-on vinyl letters just to put his last name on his mailbox. I think it was the sheer magnitude of letters that most impressed me.

As an aside, I think we could save ourselves a lot of aggravation if all telephone support people overseas dealing with American callers were required to use names similar to certain monosyllabic celebrities. Sting. Cher. Prince. Seal. Slash. Easy, right? I realize this would make e-mail addresses more difficult, but maybe we could use numbers. "This is Seal2378, how may I help you?"

After I finally got him entered into my e-mail contact list, I decided that I was going to do a little quick research on Indian names when I got home, because that's the way my stupid mind works. Honestly, I don't know what I did before I became the knowledge vampire of the Internet. Oh yeah, I went to the library and they had these things called books, and you would pay a dime to make a photocopy. Man, those book-things sucked.

Anyway, back to the names.

I realize that all names have literal meanings. Indian names in particular appear to be rife with the power of the gods, and it seems that Indian parents are not afraid to use them.

With that freedom of expression, however, comes much responsibility. The first name Akhilesh, for instance, means "Indestructible Lord of the Universe" and I am not even kidding.

I mean, holy shit. I could see where, as a parent, you would have hope for your child's unlimited potential, but you are setting yourself up for a complete fail right there. You have no shot. None. And think of your poor kid. The first time he loses a fight on the playground he's going to have a nervous breakdown. "How can this be? Am I not the Indestructible Lord of the Universe? How did Nirav sneak up behind me and strike me down?" At least if you named him Chinmay and he ended up working the customer service support line for IBM he would maintain some small measure of self-esteem.

The other thing that cracks me up are the e-mail messages we get from overseas. There is one popular phrase in particular that makes me laugh every time. About once a week I will get an e-mail asking me to fix a problem, and at the end it will say "Please do the needful."

I looked up the origin of the phrase on Wikipedia and it said "many phrases that the British may consider antiquated are still popular in India. The legacy of the East India Company and its practices still prevails in all official correspondence in India. Official letters continue to include phrases such as "please do the needful" and "you will be intimated shortly."

A woman I work with forwarded me a support request from overseas the other day that had the phrase in it. She wrote "Can you tell me how to fix this? I'm not sure what to do."

I wrote back, "You just have to do the needful."

A few seconds later, I received a reply that said, "Ha! Could you tell me what that would entail?"

So I sent her this:

Do the needful. Then click the button below. You will be intimated shortly.


  1. "How can this be? Am I not the Indestructible Lord of the Universe? How did Nirav sneak up behind me and strike me down?"

    Nirav has less consonants which always makes it easy to sneak up on the Indestructible Lord.

  2. Lol I honestly just stood up, looked like a complete idiot, and DID the Needful. Thanks, JV. Thanks a lot. Stupid needful. On topic however, what part of the world do you hate to deal with in terms of customer service. I can see India, but I think I was transferred to Jamaica once, that was a fun trip as well.

    Thanks for the intimation, JV.

  3. I guess this answers the question "What's in a name?"

  4. Ah yes, nothing screams "American" like Bono and Sting.

    Come again?

    Still hilarious, though.

  5. Steph, I fixed it for you. Not sure how that snuck in there. Smartass. :)

  6. I haven't been intimated in months.

  7. LOL....thanks for the chuckle to start the day! At least you understood every seven words. When I get one of them on the line, it's lucky if I get more than 2 words out of the whole conversation.

  8. Whenever I talk to overseas support people, they do seem to have chosen fake easy names, like Jim or Steve, which sound hilarious with their accents.

  9. Damn, that's kind of like naming your kids He Who Must Not Be Named. Next time just call him Voldemort and get it overwith.

  10. Do the Needful - do do do do do do do do do - where are my rollerskates and giant back pocket comb that says Butt on it?

  11. Thanks so much for fixing it!

    The lastname.number is how Ohio State does email addresses, so I looked up Virgil and there aren't any so you would be a dot1...unfortunately, dot1's are elitists snobs.

  12. Anonymous12:01 AM


    May I suggest you start looking up the meanings of common English names?

    You might be shocked to discover that they too have actual, literal meanings.

    For instance, Michael is Hebrew for "He who is like God."

  13. He's probably a Tam, from the name. Their English is hopeless, second only to us mallus. You unndurstaand vot I am saying, eh? If you don't, please to do the needful.

    And not all Indians give their kids names with deep meanings. I KNOW people named Happy and Pippy. And then there are the pseudo-Sanskrit names, like Ajesh. It sounds good, only it means "Lord of the goats."

  14. Johnny,

    Have you seen the scene in the film "Transformers" in which the special forces team is trying to call the Pentagon in the middle of a battle?

    You'll like this:

  15. Steph, I will never move to Ohio. I'm too elitist for that.

    Anon, Are you new here? If so, you might be shocked to learn that sometimes I pretend to not know stuff to go for the funny.

    Adorable, I've talked to people from Alabama that I've had just as much trouble understanding, so it's probably me.

    Panday, I forgot about that scene! I need to watch that movie again.

  16. Right now, I'm working with QA testers in Beijing - that would be Wayne Chen and Bob Li to you.

    I like the Indian names because they kind of roll off your tongue like an ocean wave when you learn to pronounce them - I worked with a guy named Balakrishna Subramanian. And I always (deliberately) cracked the Indian guys up by asking if Keshore Patel was related to Arvind Patel.

  17. PS - Instead of "do the needful" (which I have incorporated into a lot of my emails just to throw people off), the Chinese usually write, "please revert to questionnaire" instead of "Please refer..." And I think they really do mean revert.

  18. that was great. you managed to describe the crazy language misfire via telephone without coming across like an asshole racist. and it was funny. very funny. kudos, j.v.

  19. You have got to be the funniest person I have ever met. I love reading you.

  20. Try dealing with these folks as recruiters for a technical position. I have no idea what they're asking me, where the position is located or even their name and company. Thank God for emails.

    Great blog!

  21. LMAO! You are one funny Akhilesh!

  22. I just got a support email two minutes ago that ended with, "Everything will be as you want."

  23. Gargling small rodents...bwahahaha!

    Now I am going to have that mental image stuck in my head all day. Oh well, I guess it is a better image than what small rodents are used for by "other" people. ::shudder::

  24. This isn't quite as strange, but I always get overseas e-mails that conclude with "thank you for your kind attention." I always want to reply "actually, it was angry attention" or something.

  25. I worked with a guy named Subramaniam Venkataramanan. We used to kid him tht we hd to write this wy becuse he used up ll the A's...

    And another you won't believe: Kedarnath Tallapallisreenivasulu

    I kid you not. That last name has nine syllables.

    The names actually aren't hard to pronounce because they're phonetic. Takes a lot of practice though...

    I love that "do the needful".

    Here's another good one. I had somebody recently "prepone" a meeting because of a conflict. It means to move it to an earlier time. I guess if "postpone" means move it back, hey, then "prepone" means move it up.

    And, we have a meeting every two weeks. So we have it "fortnightly".
    How cool is that?

  26. I think Earthlink has it down. Every time I have ever contacted them for support, I have spoken to someone named Mike, or Paul, or Edwin.

    "Good morning to you and thank you for telephoning Earthlink, your provider of the internet servicing. My name is Paul, how may I be helping you today?"

    It's still India, but at least you can pronounce their names.

  27. Hey, the homeless guy digging through my dumpster says that your Ohio remark was uncalled for.

    Also, there are lots of Chinese babies named "Olypmic Games" and "Space Travel", so I think the Indian names aren't so bad.


  28. My name is Ray. It means "Wise Protector". My wife thinks that is a total riot. I have no idea.
    Vishalbraglib "Bob" Anakanakanicpoo

  29. Awesome. Dammit, I have to smiley you for this one. I'm never going to get back on top at this rate.

  30. Ok, I just have to ask...where is your weekly (Sunday) Sylvia post? I miss her advice and I've been looking forward to it all week.


  31. Thanks for laugh!

    I love taking over the telemarketer conversation. "Now, I have some questions for you. Is Jeff your real name? Where are you from? Tell me about your life." Then, "Jeff, let me tell you what happened to me today. My cat threw up on the rug in the living room...uh, hello, just bought the rug. Oh sure, it was on sale, but...hey, do you sell something for that?"

  32. hysterical post! I to wrote a post on something like this. chek it out in my archives under january "made in america". and thank God we don't have to utilize those pesky card catalogs in the library anymore!

  33. Mitesh6:36 AM

    Hilarious Post. There are tongue-twisters in India that even we Indians have difficulty pronouncing. People from southern India frequently add their parents / grand parents and (hold your breath) village names to their name. So we frequently encounter names like A B S L V Prasad. God help you if you ask they their full name :)

  34. I have a professor whose name is Akhilesh. I guess the fact that he teaches at an American school and makes more than his entire town would tell how he has lived up to his name.

  35. ROFL. I don't trust you though. Every time I call Dell or HP some guy with heavy Indian accent picks says, "Hi I am Bob." A couple of times I told them, "No, you are not." They were completely thrown off.

    Other phrases popular in India:
    "Please fill the form and return the same" (means return the f**ing form)

    "Kindly review the resume"

    "Earliest possible convenience" meaning ASAP.

    Who do I know? I am Indian :D

  36. "Do the needful" is my absolute most FAVORITE phrase uttered by our Indian accounts payable folks. I have to admit, it threw me at first. I finally realized that it wasn't a misspelling of something else.

  37. Haha! You know what? I'm an Indian too. And my name means 'happiness'. Or basically, being happy.
    It's funny. AND, unique.

    And, strangely enough, I've never heard/read that phrase. Ever.
    I think I'm just blind. Or, hypermetropic.