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Quite a few times now in India, from hotel staff to taxi staff to in shops, I've had someone ask me for my Good Name. A common form of this question is someone asking me What is your Good Name, Sir?

Despite it happening several times, I haven't been able to work out what sort of name they're expecting. Do they want my first name? Surname? Full name? Full name as found on ID eg Passport? What my friends call me? Something like John Smith, son of Joe Blogs? Something else entirely?

67

Aniket basically said the right thing but let me clarify a few things. There are many regions/groups of people in India but for myself the Bengali example is the best. It is very common for Bengalis to have two names, one of which (bhalo naam) is the legal name used on all official documents. The other (dak naam) is a colloquial name used by family and friends as a term of endearment. This is further complicated by the fact that many people add honorifics/titles in front of their names such as a Muslim adding Mohammad or somebody from the Choudhary caste adding Choudhary in front of their name.

Therefore, a person's actual intended bhalo naam might be Abdullah Aalam but he decided to put Mohammad/Chowdhary in front of it to make it Chowdhary Abdullah Aalam. Now by Western standards his first name is Chowdhary but he intends his first (formal) name to be Abdullah.

Translating subh naam literally means "good name". So to answer your question, in India good name means your first name from your full official formal name. The rest are called middle name and family/last/surname.

Full Official Name: Chowdhary Abdullah Alam

  • Honorific/Title: Chowdhary
  • Good Name: Abdullah
  • Middle Name: doesn't exist
  • Surname/Family/Last Name: Alam

Full Official Name: John Alfred Travolta

  • Good Name: John
  • Middle Name: Alfred
  • Surname/Family/Last Name: Travolta
  • Nickname/Daak Naam: Johnny

Further reading: Here and here.

  • Doesn't this mean that Nickname/Daak Naam above should be Chowdhary then? – domen May 6 '15 at 8:28
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    Great answer, but can you add a fourth bullet to the "Chowdhary Abdullah Alam" example to clarify what the "Chowdhary" part is known as? (incidentally, it seems to be quite common for British-Bengalis to use "Chowdhary" as their western-style surname, introducing themselves as for example "Mr Abdullah Chowdhary", does this mean they'd also have another family name?) – user56reinstatemonica8 May 6 '15 at 9:29
  • @user568458 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaudhry – Dan Neely May 6 '15 at 12:56
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    +1. Got two questions: 1) Is Chowdhary Abdullah Alam technically the bhalo naam, or is Abdullah Aalam? 2) If you're a Westerner with a first, middle, and last name, and you generally go by your middle name (exactly as given and in basically all situations), is your first or your middle name your good name? – Panzercrisis May 6 '15 at 17:59
  • @user568458 If they introduce themselves as Mr.Abdullah Chowdhary then Chowdhary is the family/surname. Chowdhary is a caste. Some people use the caste name as an actual family name. Some people don't. And those who don't sometimes add the caste/occupation as a title in front of their name. So in Chowdhary Abdullah, Chowdhary is a title. In Abdullah Chowdhary, Chowdhary is the surname. Also remember that sometimes not-by-choice the caste/title is forced upon by other people by repeatedly referring to an individual as "the cobbler Paul" or "the landlord Jonathan". – Fixed Point May 6 '15 at 20:02
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Your good name is basically your first name.

It's a throwback from our British colonial days... where a gentleman would ask another who is not of acquaintance and would like to be friendly - "May I ask your good name, sir?" or something on those terms.

And if they ask for your full name - well you tell your full name. In India, it's preferable to use "First Name" "Last Name" in less formal or official situations like signing the guest book at a hotel, or introducing yourself to someone officially.

You may include your middle name if you're filling out some sort of official form or application - only if there is an entry field asking you for it on the document.

EDIT - clarification - linguistic influences of the Queen's English / Oxbridge English on present day Indian English

As obvious English is not India's native language - we adopted it due to British colonial influence and their efforts in education. It's worth noting education, particularly schools and institutions which had an English curriculum were usually catered to the Indian elites (read: princes, children of rich businessmen/ zamindars, etc).

This strata of society interacted more with the British elite who were basically the ruling class at that time. As was the norm - most English people in this group were all titled (duke, earl .. at least a knighthood) or were highly respected. If you read the works of the English author's of that time - you would find many instances (can be a bit exaggerated but still hold true) of how people would interact in formal and informal social occasions.

Indian educated adopted these mannerism from them - especially the Bengali's - people from Bengal have always been academically inclined and many of them used to be office bearers in British companies and institutions. Contrary to the general portrayal of the colonial times in media, The English were generally polite and well mannered and treat such educated Indian officers with a degree of respect.

Obviously Indians educated in the English language would follow the mannerism taught to them; at least while talking to their English superiors. As time progressed - these mannerism flowed down the rungs of society. With the atrociously long names given in many Indian communities and the fact that most of our legal and governmental documentation system still bear a huge influence from the old English system - the Idea of "what is your good name" evolved to it's present day in India.

I would go on to explain the confusion of the "naming schemes" in India - but I think Fixed point elaborated on that quite well - Though the Bhalo naam concept isn't really isolated to Bengalis only.

tl;dr: - Indian naming system doesn't have a good name concept - we adopted this concept from the English language and naming system.

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    I don't think this has anything to do with the British (do you have any evidence that it was ever used by non-Indians?). It's just that in Hindi (and possibly other related languages?), the equivalent of "what is your name?" uses the construction "good name" / "shubh naam"(sp?) in it, to make the question more polite. So Hindi speakers calque the question into English, and hence we get "what is your good name?". – senshin May 5 '15 at 20:38
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    There's plenty of historical English usage of "good name"/"your good name". However, this generally meant your reputation ("do not besmirch your good name among your fellows!"), not your literal name the way it does in Indian English. google.com.au/… – lambshaanxy May 5 '15 at 22:45
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    I agree. This has nothing to do with the British or the usage of the term "good name" as we know it in English. – Fixed Point May 6 '15 at 0:01
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    I think you're referring to What's your name, my good fellow? As stated in other comments good name is understood to mean (good) reputation in most varieties of English. – CJ Dennis May 6 '15 at 8:51
  • @jpatokal Right, sure, but that usage of "good name" is just "good" + "name" (and the "name" here is in the sense of "reputation", not in the sense of "the identifier by which people refer to you") - it's not lexicalized in the same way that the Indian "good name" is. – senshin May 6 '15 at 15:39
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In India, we have good names (bhalo naam/shubh naam), as in the name you would put in a formal document, and nicknames (daak naam). Like in America you would have Robert Brown and Robby.

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    So is your good name your full name, or your first name? What if you usually go by your middle name? – amaranth May 5 '15 at 22:53
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    @yellowantphil Your good name is your first name from your full official name (ignoring the honorifics). So if you go usually by your middle name, your good name is still your first name which appears on all of your official documents. Your middle name would become your daak naam which friends and family will use to call you. – Fixed Point May 6 '15 at 1:29
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    @yellowantphil Indians will also usually assume that you want to be called by your good name by a stranger so if they are asking for some official purpose (checking in at the hotel etc.) then say "My name is Yellow" otherwise say "My name is Yellow but please call me Phil". – Fixed Point May 6 '15 at 1:36
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    @yellowantphil What good name did the Artist Formerly Known as Prince go by in India? – smci May 8 '15 at 8:15
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They are asking for your given name or first name. There is alot of cultural relevance to names. i.e. what they should call you informally.

My ex-pat friend living in India described the translation to be that "Good Name" is used in place of "Christian name". It doesn't make sense to ask someone's Christian name when they're not a Christian.

  • 1
    Interestingly, in czech republic, the literal translation of first name would be "christened name". Even though most people aren't christened anymore. So I would be a bit more careful about the "doesn't make sense" - it's always been called "christened name", and the name stuck. The most proper literal would be simply "name" (with "name and surname" meaning the full name), which is of course quite confusing. The real "christened name" would usually be the middle name, e.g. John Maria Smith having first name "John", christened name "Maria" and surname "Smith". But it's not used that way :) – Luaan May 6 '15 at 7:59
  • And of course if you ask a Chinese, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese for their first name, that will be their surname, whether or not they're Christian. I can't remember if the same applies to Khmer, Lao, Mongolian, and Thai people. – hippietrail May 16 '15 at 5:45
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Like many already mentioned by some, it's just a literal translation of the Hindi phrase "Shubh Naam".

It's not strictly needed that "Good name" must be the first and last name.

Now to understand what they are expecting, it really depends on who is asking you and for what purpose.

Let's say your name is George Timothy Clooney :) :) ( Why not! It's his birthday today! Happy Birthday!!! )

If a waiter in a restaurant or a porter or a cab driver asks you this, he/she just wants to know what you would be liked to called as. So "Call me George" is a good answer. Or if you are used to being called by short middle name and you are ok them calling you "Tim" you can answer - "You can call me Tim"

If its the Hotel reception manager asking you when you check-in, you can give your legal name, usually the first name and last name is enough. You can skip middle name here. So "George Clooney" is fine.

If it's the officer at Immigration desk when you land in the port of entry in India, you must tell him your full name first middle last etc. They will be matching it on a document like passport or visa, license etc so the name should match whatever proof of identity you are carrying. So, here you have to say "George Timothy Clooney"

In general apart from such official/legal scenarios, if anyone asks you your good name, you can safely respond with first name and last name - "My name is George Clooney".

5

What is your good name ?

Translates to

What is your name?

Or

What shall I call you?

Don't think too much, it's just a gesture... the world is more than logical thinking :)

3

In Hindi, Indians say Aapka shubh naam kya hai? Here Shubh means good and Naam means name. Hence, everybody says this.

This Hindi phrase is a way of asking someone's name and is translated literally when asking someone's name in English. To Indian ears, it sounds more polite than just "What's your name?"

So the correct answer to give when posed with the question "What is your good name?" is: your name. Your full name (if you choose), or what you would like to be called.

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    But what part of my name are they expecting me to respond with? – Gagravarr May 6 '15 at 11:05
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    If my name is Sam Smith and someone asks me my good name, I will say, "My name is Sam Smith". – Jigar Trivedi May 8 '15 at 9:18
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It's a polite form, an honorific. It's not a test. I'm guessing you'd never hear a native speaker say ''MY good name is...''

  • 3
    What sort of answer are they expecting though? What bit of my name should I respond with? – Gagravarr May 9 '15 at 11:30
  • I have always replied back with my first name and thats what I expect when I ask some what their "good" name is. Same in Hindi when we ask aapka shubh naam kya hai. People just tell their first name or whatever name they would like the person to call them. It is nothing complicated. Just a more polite way of asking someone what they should call you thats all. – PSC775 May 26 '15 at 7:10

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