The Sunday Leader

Shh! Shh! Name Changes And Their Significance

  • Now for something frivolous this week!

I am really puzzled by the predilection of all and sundry to replace the “s” sound in both the Sinhala and English alphabets, with the (slurred) “sh” sound in the spelling and pronunciation of their names.

It seems like it began in the belief that it bestowed some kind of “respectability” or “nobility” on those who were the beneficiaries of such substitution.  The first evidence of this appears to be in the case of the current President, followed quite swiftly by his family.  Buried in the sands of time is the answer to the question of whether it was a change deliberately made by the Rajapaksas, or one that they acquiesced in after that the Rajapaksa Sycophancy made it. Suffice it to say though that this appears to constitute the advertising guru’s “branding” credo carried to an extreme, and then expanded some more by those with an obsession with jumping on bandwagons who have now chosen to spell and pronounce their names similarly.
At the beginning, “Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa” ceased to exist and “Mahinda Rajapaksha” appeared in his stead.  Our First Citizen has had the benefit of a double whammy, having an elevation in both first and last names, “Mahendra” becoming “Mahinda,” with all kinds of venerable Buddhist overtones, and then the “sh” sound arriving in his last name.  Soon all of the President’s family had lost the “s” in their last names with the “sh” substituted for it.
Before too long, this transformative urge began to make itself felt among all those nearest and dearest to His Excellency.  Most appropriately, that legislator and Chairman of the Rajapaksa/Rajapaksha Sycophancy (RS), a practitioner of the art without equal and the Minister with  a non pareil reputation for Farces unto Death, Wimal Weerawansa, lost the “s” in his last name and gained the (royal) “sh.”  I expect that the rest of the RS horde has, by now, succumbed to the temptation of ascension to our local Royalty, and done the “Sh-substitution-for-S” trick.
Where does this all end?  You’d have Sharath Amunugama, Tishsha Vitarana, G.L. Peirish (who’d have to surrender the “Patis Kata” nickname or maybe claim that that appelation was the reason for the “re-pronunciation” of his last name), D.E.W. Gooneshekara, Sh. B. Dishanayake, Vashudeva Nanayakkara, etc. etc.!
You’d have an Elections Commissioner called Dayananda Dishshanayake, a Leader of the Opposition called Ranil Wickremeshinghe.  His deputy would be Karu Jayashuriya and his chief rival’s first and last names would be Shajith Premadasha and on and on, ad infinitum (and ad nauseam).
Mervin Shilva?  I think not.  After all there is a peculiar relationship between the “Dr.” and the hierarchy of this government which would seem to preclude his ascending to their level.  No matter how prodigal this son, the likelihood of the fatted calf being butchered for him (metaphorically speaking, of course) in the matter of an elevation to Rajapaksha-hood, does not quite seem on the cards.
There are going to be a number of politicians who are, given this elevation of their peers to a new “nobility,” pushed into plebian status.  Poor old Prime Minishter, D. M. Jayaratne will be among them.  In his particular case, the $64,000 question could well be, “Will he have to return the new suit that was tailored for his long-awaited ascension to Prime Ministerial rank,” or will he be permitted to retain that cloak of success, because doing otherwise would truly be cruelty to a politician of negligible ability but significant ego.

Where is all of this going to end?
Given many Sri Lankans’ predilection for idiotic over-statement and exaggeration – a whole art form in the case of our politicians – I would suggest that we go the next step and start “softening” all those names that the Teutonic nations of this world seem to revel in because of the “hard” sound attached to them. Thus, any “t” or “d” sound will be modified to read as a “th.”
We could, in keeping with the compulsion to legislate everything from skirt lengths to the minimum qualifications to receive free medical treatment in our hospitals, pass laws that require that all those with a “d” or “t” sound in their names change it to a “th” sound.  As with the earlier-mentioned “sh” sound which, because of its origins being akin to an honour bestowed by royalty, such change will only be permitted with the express sanction of anyone already bearing the name “Rajapaksha.”  Any and all deviations from such requirements will only be with the sanction of His Majesty who was till recently, President.  This will maintain the untramelled power of our Head of State which our judiciary has held to be without limit or ‘borders’ to it.
And that is the reality in an island where, it seems, “anything goes.”
It should also be possible to employ a whole horde of new graduates, forming some form of department in charge of all elements of this name change project.  All the political parties will have representation on the group tasked with selecting such individuals, ensuring that the opposition representatives are a minority.  The opposition nominees will, thereby, continue to be unable to raise any serious objections to the injustices and favouritism that will be inflicted on the abused citizenry of this country in the matter of even their names.  This will maintain a recently-established, but inviolable, tenet of justice in our Land of a Thousand Ministers.
My own problem and, probably that of tipplers of my generation, is that every time we pronounce one of these Royal names, we will be suspected of having imbibed well and not wisely.  Ah, well, such is life!

8 Comments for “Shh! Shh! Name Changes And Their Significance”

  1. Insu

    Pronounciations Shounds like the stupefied pronunciations of the inebriated.

  2. With a name like Emil van der Poorten, you could have easily migrated to Canada or Australia. Your editor Frederica Jansz could have done the same.

    Why did you opt to live in Sri Lanka?

    Perhaps you have decided that there is no home better than good old Ceylon. The Rajapakshas, the Premadashas and the Gunarathnas, among other hoi polloi, have allowed you to play with their names?

    Nice fellows, these Shinhalese?

  3. ado muttiah

    This is the result of deeply communalistic traits surfacing in bigoted people who wish to rally round a metaphoric saviour of their race, now that the bitter war is over on the ground. Not only dropping the S sound for the SH, there are plenty of other examples if you look around carefully.
    One example : Senevira(th)ne instead of Seneviratne as in Malinda Senevirathne. Doesnt in sound true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool Sinhala buddhist now?

  4. Bruz

    Nice going. Oh yeah, these are very important changes necessary for a country
    on it’s way to be the “Miracle of Asia” & so how about changing the name
    of the country itself to “SHRI LANKA” too ?..! Looks like guys have nothing better to do in Silly Lanka.

    • horsey mubarak

      Sshhhhhhhhhhhhh! You touched a raw nerve. A very raw one at that. SHRI in the SHRI Lanka you are proposing is Indian. Dont ask for trouble now. We already have more than we can chew. So be careful about what you wish. We dont want to be parippu-bombed again.

  5. Din

    This is probably an irrelevant horse to flog.
    Isnt Rajapaksha closer to the original sinhala pronounciation?
    There wouldnt be any Jayashuriya, because sinhala pronounciation is Jayasuriya (or Jayasooriya).

  6. Bruz

    @ horsey Mubarak,

    I know the feeling, can’t forget that ‘parippu’ bombing stuff, but Sri lankan names are
    all very much Indian, except a few very Sinhala originals.Lots of first names are identical in Sinhala , Tamil & many Indian languages.Even the religions Budhdhism
    and Hinduism originated in India.But it seems now a days we are treating each other more like an enemy than a neighbour or a friend. We trust China & Pakistan more than India because Indian Govt plays double game & they never trust Tamils or Sinhalese either , it is an undeniable fact !

  7. Ma-Rout-Ti

    Only an elitist colonial remnant would make such a Big Deal of the difference between “sri” and “shri”

    ………. which, Renaissance Man, clearly DOES exist between the Sinhala and Tamil characters for each.. yes, it’s a pain sometimes but to denigrate the proper use of a language (any language) is to show a level of churlishness ill-befitting a wordsmith as you claim to be

    Would you complain about the American English “Check” and British English “Cheque” ? If so, on which sideof the linguistic fence would your Renaissance pronounciations fall ?

    The Renaissance Man is certainly scraping the bottom of the Renaissance Barrel to cobble together some article for publications

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