Why do Indian names have meanings

Her name is Aishwarya, and it says it on her student ID. It hangs on a ribbon around her neck, which she shifts, sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left. She is 13 years old and lives high up on a mountain in the small village of Narafdev, 250 kilometers from Mumbai, the capital of the state of Maharashtra. The sand-colored landscape lies like a wrinkled carpet over the hills on the horizon. Aishwarya dressed up that day, black pants, pink kurta, that's the name of the traditional Indian outerwear; a scarf lies loosely over her shoulders. She expects visitors from the city. A woman wants to see how she is doing after all these years.

The name on the student ID means everything to the girl. It is not only part of its identity, it is its legitimation. It no longer wanted to use the name its mother gave it. He was proof that his parents never wanted it. That they wanted a boy. That's why they called their daughter "Nakusa". The unwanted one.

In India, names often have their origins in mythology and religion. The name should show the child his way into the future, help him to develop his personality. Popular for girls are Lakshmi, after the goddess of wealth, Sunita, "polite", or Kavita, "poem". In the Satara region of Maharashtra state in central India, parents who have many daughters believe that they can send a sign to the gods with the child's name. Nakusa means: enough daughters, we finally want a son.

For simple families, girls quickly become a poverty trap

About a thousand girls with the name Nakusa live in Satara, estimates T. V. Sekher, professor at the International Institute for Population Science in Mumbai. He recently published a study in which he researched the psychological effects of the name on girls: 70 percent had experienced humiliation and were traumatized. "We look back on centuries of discrimination against girls in India," he says. "What we are seeing here in rural Maharashtra is the cruellest form."

Aishwarya can tell about it too. "'Come here, you unwanted one,' the other children called to me," she says, "they often refused to let me play along." She only found out what Nakusa means in school, when all the children were asked to explain the meaning of their names. When she could not explain hers, the teacher took the chalk and wrote on the board in the local language Marathi: "Unwanted girl". "I felt so dirty," she says.

She lives in one room with her parents, grandmother and siblings. The family lives on the farm, two oxen, a cow, a calf and a couple of goats are tied up in front of the door. What is known in the West as a Christmas nativity play is everyday life in rural India: Aishwarya lives with her family in a stable, for the woman from the city her mother makes tea over an open fire.

Samindra Bapusaheb Jadhav helped that Nakusa could become Aishwarya. With her organization Swayamsiddha Women Development, she supports young girls in having their birth certificates, certificates and IDs rewritten. 280 Nakusas were able to choose a new name with their help. "We don't want any more unwanted girls," says Samindra Bapusaheb Jadhav, who has two sons herself. "Everyone should be welcome."

If you ask Aishwarya's mother why she named her daughter Nakusa, she openly says: "We have already had six girls, we wanted a son." Aishwarya sits motionless on the bast mat with her head bowed, a tear slowly running down her cheek.

There are financial reasons why Indian couples often prefer sons to daughters; For simple families in particular, girls quickly become a poverty trap. Education, marriage and dowry (which is prohibited by law, but still the rule) cost parents a lot of money, and many have to take out loans. After the marriage, the daughter and her property become the property of the groom's family, the parents stay with the son. Because there is no state pension in India, they are financially dependent on him in old age.