What is in a Name?

23rd Jan 2009
Vaijayantimala devi dasi

Dear Prabhujis and Matajis,
Hare Krishna! Please accept my humble obeisances! All glories to Srila Prabhupada and Srila Gurudeva!

It is said that the sweetest sound for any person is the sound of one’s own name. Whenever we hear someone talking about us mentioning our name, immediately we become attentive. Nowadays the parents are so crazy to see that their children’s name is on the top of the list that the majority of parents name their child beginning with the alphabet ‘A’ so that their child’s name will be in the top of the list at least alphabetically, if not by any other merit. We are mad about numerology and give all kinds of meaningless names to our children without giving proper thoughts. Even if we give them a nice name, we tend to abbreviate it in so many crazy ways and call them in that way. On the day of initiation, we are given a Krishna daasya naama (name of Krishna’s servant) and even after being so fortunate, we do not endeavour to remember or call by this initiated name but continue with the karmic name. I came to understand what a great misfortune it is to do like this, after I went through the pastime of Ajamila. We find that Ajamila named his youngest son as Narayana and he was very much attached to this child. Because the child’s name was Narayana, the old man always chanted the holy name of Narayana.

While describing the life of Ajamila to Maharaj Parikshit, Sukadev Goswami says in Srimad Bhagavatam 6.1.26 -

bhuñjānaḥ prapiban khādan bālakaṁ sneha-yantritaḥ
bhojayan pāyayan mūḍho na vedāgatam antakam

When Ajamila chewed food and ate it, he called the child to chew and eat, and when he drank he called the child to drink also. Always engaged in taking care of the child and calling his name, Naarayana, Ajamila could not understand that his own time was now exhausted and that death was upon him.

Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport to SB 6.1.25 that although Ajamila was referring to the small child and not to the original Narayana, the name of Narayana is so powerful that even by chanting his son’s name he was becoming purified. Prabhupada also mentions that Ajamila was saying, ‘Narayana, please come eat this food. Narayana, please come drink this milk.’ Somehow or the other therefore he was attached to the name Narayana. This is called ajnaana sukriti. Then in his purport to SB 6.1.26 Srila Prabhupada makes a very very powerful statement which is worth remembering by all of us. Although calling for his son, he was unknowingly chanting the name of Narayana, and the holy name of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is so transcendentally powerful that his chanting was being counted and recorded.

How much kind the Lord is to the conditioned souls like us? This reminds us of the statement by our beloved Guru Maharaj, ‘whatever condition you are in, please chant on japa mala beads. If you cannot chant on the beads, then at least chant on your fingers and if you cannot chant on your fingers, at least start chanting and KRISHNA WILL COUNT for you.’

Ajamila was engaged in so much abominable sinful activities and the question arises in our mind as to how he could name his son as ‘Narayana’ to become eligible for all this fortune. Srila Prabhupada gives a wonderful explanation in his purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 6.2.32,

In the beginning of his life Ajamila was certainly very pure, and he associated with devotees and brahmanas.; because of that pious activity, even though he was fallen, he was inspired to name his son Narayana. Certainly, this was due to good counsel given from within by the Supreme Personality Of Godhead. The Lord, who is situated in everyone’s heart, is so kind that if one has ever rendered service to Him, the Lord never forgets him. Thus, the Lord, from within, gave Ajamila the opportunity to name his youngest son Narayana, so that in affection he would constantly call ‘Narayana! Narayana!’ and thus be saved from the most fearful and dangerous condition at the time of his death. Such is the mercy of Krishna. In our Krishna consciousness movement, we therefore change a devotee’s name to a form that reminds him of Vishnu. If at the time of death, the devotee can remember his own name, such as Krishna dasa or Govinda dasa, he can be saved from the greatest danger. Therefore, the change of names at the time of initiation is essential. The Krishna consciousness movement is so meticulous that it gives one a good opportunity to remember Krishna somehow or other.’

After reading these most powerful words of Srila Prabhupada, our question changes from ‘What is in a name?’ to ‘What is not in a name?’

Thank you very much.
Yours in service of Srila Prabhupada and Srila Gurudeva,
Vaijayantimala devi dasi
Abu Dhabi.