Just for fun…

“Azhagi, un per enna”?, asked a genial uncle, of my sister on a bus journey a long time ago. My sis was about 4 yrs old then. The family used to tease her with that line for a long time. But if the uncle had addressed that question to an older girl, imagine what the reaction would have been. Addressing a stranger, then, by default is a formal affair.

At home though, we have varying degrees of formality addressing each other. It is interesting to observe how spouses address each other. No, I am not going to even mention endearments in intimate settings. This is about how they address or refer to each other in front of the larger family and social circle. In most Tamil households, the wife would address the husband as ‘ennanga’ and refer to him as ‘avar’ or ‘avanga’. The wife would be called by name (or a ‘adiye’ depending on the chauvinist quotient I suppose) and referred to as “ava” (colloq. for ‘aval’). I guess the Tamil TV serials will provide the QED for this. May be modern households allow the women to address the husband by name. But I think in a larger gathering he would be referred to as ‘avar’. This, I am talking about the general Tam family.

If you look at specific communities, there are nuances to behold! Take the Tambrams, the ones I am familiar with. In previous generations, the wives would address the husbands with a ‘yenna’. This I always thought was actually ‘ei anna’ (oh, the irony – anna is elder brother :)). And referring to them in third person would be ‘avar’, ‘avaa’. The husbands would call their wives by their name and refer to her as ‘ava’. This ava, avaa would have different cadences depending on the person’s/ family’s origins. The Tanjore Brahmins with their gregariousness, the palakkad Iyers with their mallu tinged accent and so on…

In slightly ‘hip’ families the wife would refer to the husband by name, say to relatives or friends. I remember a distant relative doing that a good decade or so back and my mom termed her as ‘modern’! But it would still be XYZ (the name) ‘sonnar’. Not sure what the equivalent in telugu and kannada families are. Among Keralites, the man is addressed as ‘etta’, similar to the ‘yenna’ and the woman…?

In the North, at least in the Punjabi families presented to us by Messrs. Chopra, Johar and Co., the lady would yell out or demurely say ‘aji, sunte ho?!’, and she would always be ‘suno’, and/or ‘sonu, monu, bittu, whatever ki ma’. The more romantic type of men would use sanam, jaanam, jaanu…don’t think the lady has the liberty to do that yet in public.

Now in most young families, both the spouses address each other by name (even their pet/ nick names, endearments are open to public consumption sometimes). And the lady has no qualms referring to him as ‘avan’ with everyone – elders, friends, colleagues, all. And their conversation is peppered with the unisex term of endearment ‘da’. ‘di’, I suppose is still derogatory, but not sure….am seriously out of depth with Gen Y or Z or whatever they are now. And with more inter-state and inter-racial marriages happening there would be more diversity all around for sure.

So how about you? How do you address/ refer to your spouse? And what did your parents do?

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  • Jo  On September 4, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    hmmm…thats true Meera ! Though all have their own rights to call thier husbands(by name ?!?!?) its somehow not acceptable by the parents/grand parents/elders !! Name is just a Name…They think calling ‘aathukkaar*’ by name means,giving no respect…And also do you know theres an old saying , if you call your betterhalf* by name,thier life span comes down it seems ….will it be not applicable to the great wives like us ?!?!? but a better way i have found out to call my * is ‘Daddy’ when among the crowd. If i need to talk to him in front of the crowd, i prefer to talk in english 🙂

  • AverageJane  On September 8, 2009 at 12:18 am

    LOL! Good one. Reminded me of a game in Kannada weddings where people come and ask you what the name of your (newly wedded) partner is and you have to make a rhyme to ‘take’ his name. 🙂 In our house, my mom uses my dad’s name but she still refers to him as ‘avaru’ (Kannada for ‘avar’). The two of us use ‘avanu’, ‘avaLu’ (Kannada for ‘avan’ and ‘avaL'(?)). We even use ‘yeno’, ‘yene’ etc which is like ‘enna da’ and some aunties have lectured me about not doing that. I know friends and cousins who use the singular when among similar aged groups but switch to the “respectful” plural when among older couples and especially in-laws. I always wonder how they do that.

    • myfloatingthoughts  On September 8, 2009 at 7:43 pm

      AJ, in early days of married life, I tried doing that. Using the plural in front of the elders. It wasn’t easy and was never comfortable with the ‘hypocrisy’ (for want of a better word!). So I stuck to ‘avan’ even in front of his grandmoms and they are quite comfortable with all that now 🙂

  • CA  On October 23, 2009 at 2:23 am

    AJ has already given out the Kannada specifics .. nothing to add there. Oh wait .. there is .. in the traditional families wives address their husbands as Yenu , Yenu andre ( similar to suniye in Hindi) while calling out and husbands called out the names of their better halves.
    Of course, the two of us address each other by names … and reserve the respectful tone of “Yenu … Banni” for special moments 😀

    • myfloatingthoughts  On October 23, 2009 at 10:19 pm

      Pretty much the norm in most urban families now, I think. Cantaloupe’s amma, welcome here! I love the sound of the word cantaloupe 🙂

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