Meet the Roosevelt, Stalin, Adolf, Galileo, Lenin and Macbeth of India

Saturday, 10 May 2014 - 9:46pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

While a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, would Lenin to another man be as revolutionary? Team JBM meets a group of people with legendary names, with tales tall enough to suspend your disbelief

Roosevelt Fernandes, a senior marketing officer with a leading media house, isn't sure why he was named after the US's 32nd president, but he has his uncle to thank for it. "My parents never told me why I got the name, but my uncle — my godfather — suggested it because he liked it."

While his name does not slide of the aam aadmi's tongue, there are some who recognise and respect it. "Some people can't even pronounce my name and 80 per cent of the people always get the spelling wrong. Few people, mostly learned ones and others like police inspectors, sometimes surprise me. They know about Roosevelt and their knowledge surprises me. 'Do you know where your name comes from?' they ask me."

While his namesake is frequently ranked as America's second or third greatest president, Fernandes wasn't quite overflowing with gratitude initially. "In the beginning I hated my name, but later on, whilst I was growing up, I realised its value and with many people appreciating my name, I actually love my name right now."

If he could change his name, the shorter, casual-sounding Damian would be his best bet.

"Naming me Stalin was perhaps my father's idea of a practical joke," says Stalin K, director of Video Volunteer, a media and human rights NGO based in Goa. Growing up in Gujarat, though, the name didn't ring a bell and meant nothing for most people Stalin would meet. There were the usual problems people had in pronouncing the name. "I was called everything from Sterling to Stallion to Darling."

And, oddly enough, people assumed he was Christian whenever he would introduce himself, not knowing that the Soviet Union leader, Joseph Stalin, was one of the most iconic communist figures of his times. "I didn't really know who Stalin was till I was in 7th standard," he says. And the realisation wasn't pretty. "I realised, then, that I was named after a mass murderer!" he says. Knowing who Stalin was opened up a new world for him nevertheless. "I got interested in Communism, in the lives of Marx and Lenin. And read up a lot of Russian literature," he says.

The name now is a great conversation starter and there's rarely a gathering where he isn't asked why he is called Stalin.

The name Adolf itself evokes images of Hitler, the military dictator of Nazi Germany who was, in a way, responsible for starting World War II and killing more than 11 million Jews.

Given how poor in taste it comes across, this once popular name (meaning 'noble wolf') across the Scandinavian belt is now no longer used at all. Yet Mumbai has its own Adolf. This one's a D'Souza though and was India's first citizens' nominated candidate for the 2007 municipal polls from Juhu, which he won.

The-modest-to-a-fault leader is providing better medical facilities at a lower cost, renovating the government-managed Cooper Hospital and reopening a dispensary. The 51-year-old Juhu-boy, from a middle-class Catholic family, believes that there is something to learn and pick from everyone, even his historical German namesake.

"Once one focuses on a task and helps people it can be a very good feeling." He remembers growing up unaware of his import of his name. "There was the usual heckling, calling me Hitler but I was okay with that till we were taught about what he did." But he doesn't mind the name now. "I have made my peace with it," he laughs.

The son of a missionary based in Punjab, Apollo Raj Kumar's name does not come from the Greek pantheon, but from the Alexandrian Jewish Christian mentioned in the New Testament. "My grandfather was the first one to believe in Jesus, and he named me after Apollos, a disciple of Jesus. He doesn't know English and doesn't have any clue about the Greek god," says the 24-year-old Apollo, who goes by the patronymic surname Eliazer.

And what reactions does he get with his uncommon name? "The first question I usually get is, 'Is that your real name?' and the next question usually is 'what does it mean?' My first conversations with people usually revolve aorund my name," says the native of Tirunvelneli in Tamil Nadu.

Proud of his unique name, Apollo, who works for Every Nation Ministries, says he wouldn't change it, but if he was forced to he would give himself another Greek name of spiritual significance — Aristarchus. Not to be confused with the visionary ancient Greek mathematician who proposed the heliocentric model 1,800 years before Copernicus, Aristarchus was a contemporary of St Paul from Thessalonica. Why this name? "I first saw the name in the Bible, and I love Greek names," he says.

Thirty-year-old Galileo Teles from Goa says that when his parents named him after the father of modern astronomy, they did so with the hope that he would grow up to be a scientist. "My parents weren't looking for just any scientist's name, they wanted the name to be unusual. That's how I ended up being called Galileo," says the lawyer. But little did his folks know what was in store for him. Galileo adds, "My uncle went on to name his son Newton. Funnily, neither of us grew up to be scientists!"

The first day of kindergarten was truly horrid, he reminisces. When he was asked to introduce himself to the class, all the kids burst into laughter on hearing his name. "That day, I went home and cried. I was very upset with my parents for giving me my unusual name," says Galileo, adding that today, he loves his name and wouldn't change it for anything in the world.

The strangest reactions he has received, says Galileo, have more to do with his full name. "People keep asking me if I was intentionally given the name, because my surname 'Teles' has the first half of the word 'telescope', which Galileo is believed to have invented. This happens more often than you'd imagine," he exclaims.

He was christened Jose Vincent Marcellino Rodrigues, but everyone knows him as Bismarck. A widow living two houses away from him advised him (when he was a young boy), "Change your name to Bismarck and you will prosper." Although it sounded ominous, he liked the name and from then on, he went by Bismarck.

Today, over 70 years later, he is one of the best guitarists in Mumbai. Rishi Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan, Ehsaan Noranni… these are just a few of the famous people he has mentored. "Everyone recognises my name. When someone asks one of my students, 'who do you learn the guitar from' and they say "Bismarck", everyone knows who they are talking about. Had I gone as Joe, people would ask 'Joe who?'"

He doesn't remember when he changed his name on official records, but his election card and other documents now read Bismarck Rodrigues. But much as he loves his name, he does not like to be associated with Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of the German Empire. "I know who he is. He was a bad man," he says gravely.

Lenin, 28, knew from the time he was around five, that Vladimir Lenin was 'the Father of Modern Russia'. The software engineer by day and musician by night, has been living in Ireland since 2011. The songs he co-writes and records with his brother Lionel have aired on BBC. They often perform in Dublin and Liverpool, where they are known as 'the Indian Beatles', "partially due to my name; as most people and music fans associate 'Lenin' with John Lennon," Lenin explains.

He claims to not know a lot about Lenin, before proceeding to share an articulate synopsis on the circumstances surrounding the rise of the revolutionary and his own thoughts on Marxism, socialism, communism and "of course, the greatest mistake of all — Stalin."

While people find his name "unusual for an Indian", "eccentric" and "even offending", it's a good conversation starter. Besides, it's unique. People don't forget it," he remarks.

While his famous name may have motivated him to succeed, he has come to believe that his identity "does not come from my name. It lies in my passions — music, has put me in the spotlight, even more than my name."

"Are you serious? It's a Shakespeare play. Have you read it?"

"It's a weird and different name."

"I've never come across such a name," And neither has he. Macbeth Pereira smiles as he hears the same reactions each time he introduces himself. "People simply can't believe what they hear," he says.

An avid reader, his dad found the name perfect for his newborn son. But while the original was Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdora; a valiant military man, who commits regicide, becomes a Scottish king and then lives in anxiety until he is killed, 25-year-old Macbeth Pereira works as ground staff at IndiGo Airlines, is a foodie and loves football.

Fondly called Micky, sometimes people get his name wrong and refer to him as Micabeth, Mecbeth, Macbert, Macbird. "To tease me, they have even called me McDonald's. But I'm used to people not getting it the first time. I love my name and wouldn't change it for anything," he says.

While he is curious to know more about his name other than the fact that it's a Shakespeare play, Macbeth has not yet gotten down to reading it. Maybe he will, soon!

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