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What do you call your husband? Whatever the name might be, let it be a mutual decision. Don’t allow the societal expectations to decide that for you.
What do you call your husband? The obvious answer is ‘his name’. That is what a name is for, isn’t it? To address someone, to call out to someone, to speak of someone and so on. Well, not every wife calls her husband by his name.
A recent real-life incident had me thinking. A friend of mine whom I have known for a few years calls her husband ‘Evandi’. As a result, we, her friends, thought his name was ‘Evandi’ and for all these years he has been called ‘Evandi’ by her female friends, and even by a lot of the men in the social circle. This husband is known by the trendier ‘A1D’ among his office mates who are largely non-Indian. Recently we found out that Evandi’s real name is not ‘Evandi’ at all. In fact it’s not even a name! In Telugu, this is the word used by a wife to address her husband. A word that signifies respect and one that women use, to avoid calling the husband by his real name!
This incident had us all in splits of laughter and my friend who is very sporting, does not mind us continuing to call the man ‘Evandi’. However, the husband, a much-embarrassed man is trying to make us all call him by his real name, which no one can remember.
‘Evandi’ is similar to the word ‘Aho’, which is used in Maharashtra. I can remember women of my grandparents’ generation, using the word ‘Aho’. In those days, the wife never called her husband by his real name. She always respectfully called her husband ‘Aho’ and if speaking about her husband, would always refer to him as ‘Hey’ [not to be confused with how we use the word ‘Hey’, today]. ‘Hey’, in Marathi literally means ‘They’ or for addressing someone in the plural, signifying respect towards the person who is being spoken about. In that generation, some husbands would, in turn, refer to their wife as ‘Aho’, which was, I suppose, mutual respect.
In that generation, some husbands would, in turn, refer to their wife as ‘Aho’, which was, I suppose, mutual respect.
After the couple had children, a husband could also call out to his wife using the children’s’ name as ‘so-and so ’s mother’ or the wife would call the husband ‘so-and-so ‘s father’. Calling out to each other by the name given at birth was considered rude, and for a woman to use her husband’s name, almost blasphemous! In that era, in fact, a lot of women in Maharashtra did not address each other by simply their name. The suffix of ‘Bai’ or Tai’ or something similar was a must. The suffix of ‘Saheb’ or ‘Rao’ or something similar was added to a man’s name to denote respect. The wife, of course, continued to call the husband ‘Aho’, and the only times she had the privilege of uttering his real name was in the ‘Nav ghene’ ceremony.
There is a charming little tradition among us Maharashtrians, where the wife makes up a couplet to incorporate her husband’s real name and recites the couplet in public, usually at weddings and other social functions. Bashfully and discreetly murmuring her husband’s name [suffixed with ‘Saheb’, Rao or similar], this ‘Nav ghene’ programme was a much-awaited fun event. ‘Nav ghene’ literally translates to ‘taking name’ and even in this couplet recitation, the wife would sometimes shy away from taking the husband’s real name and end up replacing his name with ‘Hey’ or ‘Amche Hey’ [My ‘Hey’]. Such was the discomfiture associated with saying a husband’s name.
In my parents’ generation, women continued to use ‘Aho’, but I have observed that it isn’t with the same kind of deference that the older generation used. The ‘Aho’ just wasn’t said as demurely and submissively as the previous generation. Calling out ‘Aho’ is a loud commanding voice, as in – ”Aho! Go get the milk” said in Marathi is an example where although the word ‘Aho’ is used, it is not used as respectfully as it is meant to be. In fact, in this generation, some women started calling their husband by their real name, and I remember hearing sniggering, whispering people call the woman ‘modern’, ‘forward’ and ‘bold’! Most women of this generation, however continued with ‘Aho’ and recently my daughter thought my father-in-law’s name was ‘Aho’!
Fast forward to my generation [I am in my forties, so cannot really say new generation]. I always assumed women of my age called out to their husbands by their names. I call my husband by all sorts of nicknames and pet names which my grandmothers would never approve of. The only time I call him ‘Hey’ is ‘Hey, let’s go out today!’ or something similar. We had a ‘Nav ghene’ programme in our wedding and that was more to do with compiling cheeky couplets, and we both took turns reciting them.
I call my husband by all sorts of nicknames and pet names which my grandmothers would never approve of.
So, recent conversations with some of my friends and acquaintances, many 10 years younger than me, brought up some very interesting and shocking facts.
Even in this day and age, plenty of women in India do not utter their husband’s name. There are equivalent words for ‘Aho’ and ‘Hey’ in many Indian languages. Words that are meant to show respect for the man, the husband. Does the husband have a similar word for the wife? Something that denotes mutual respect? Well, not always. So, the husband can call the wife by her birth name or the name that he has given her after marriage [which is another debate!], while the wife is not allowed to say his name. As if rolling his name off her tongue would end in some kind of catastrophe. Pray tell me, what is a name for, in that case and why is everyone else, except the wife allowed to use the name?
Pray tell me, what is a name for, in that case and why is everyone else, except the wife allowed to use the name?
As it turns out, a lot of women who do continue to use these synonyms for ‘husband’ are doing it for simply keeping a tradition alive. A tradition many would like to view as charming, old-world, a sign of good upbringing, being ‘cultured’ and what not!
Another reason many women are reluctant to use the husband’s name is to avoid upsetting the in-laws. Yes, in a lot of families, calling the husband by his name in public and, probably, in private is just not acceptable. Parents-in-law frown and forbid it. Parents of the woman, too, second this view. What chance does the woman have when everything is loaded against her? Why try to defy an age-old tradition and family pressure when it is just easy to call the husband by a ‘synonym’. Of course, there are many husbands who love this show of veneration, enjoying this display of reverence and subservient stance taken by the wife. While some leave it to the preference of the wife, others demand being called by these euphemistic names and insist on being addressed in the plural, especially in front of relatives and friends.
Some women choose to take the middle ground by using the hubby’s real name or pet name in private, but strictly adhering to the favoured, traditional ‘respectful’ terms in the company of the elders of the family.
While there is no right or wrong and women and men have the right to choose what they want do or not do in life, there is a big question that arises from this protocol of addressing one’s husband.
We have the right to make choices in our lives. What we call our spouse is or should be a personal preference. If a woman wants and loves to call her husband ‘Evandi’ out of her choice, that is fine. If another woman prefers calling her husband ‘Honey’, out of choice, then that is alright too.
What is not alright is being forced to call your husband a certain ‘respectful’ term to adhere to the tag of being a good-cultured woman, who obeys and respects her husband or being coerced into thinking that addressing your husband in such a manner will make him more worthy of respect.
What is not acceptable is when you force yourself to address him as ‘His Highness’ or ‘Your Lordship’ and do not have an iota of respect for the man.
What is not alright is when the respect is not mutual. Your husband demands respect because he is older than you as if being born earlier makes him superior to you. Your husband insists on being called ‘Your majesty’ while you serve him, the master. But in return, do you get addressed by a similar title that designates respect?
Isn’t marriage an equal partnership or is this a wrong assumption in the first place?
What about your own respect? Why is it that you are called merely by your real name and not crowned by a prefix or suffix to enhance your worth?
Many quote tradition to enforce addressing the husband by a synonym. But isn’t tradition ‘man-made’ and like so many traditions we blindly follow, doesn’t this one smack of patriarchy in the Indian society?
We would love to believe that life is about choices and respecting others’ choices. But the choice cannot be enforced and one cannot be intimidated into making it, using tradition and other male-centric institutions as an excuse.
Whether you choose to call your husband ‘Emandi’, ‘Aye Ji’, Pappu, Bunny, Baby, Darling or just ‘Munni’s father’, it should be solely your free choice.
If it’s a term of endearment, coming straight from the heart, what’s in a name? If the respect is mutual and you get a ‘Jee’ for a ‘Jee’, an ‘Aho’ for an ‘Aho’, that would be even better because love cannot be one-sided.
Image of a happy couple via Shutterstock
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