WHEN MY FATHER showed me my genealogy table and I read over the names of my great-grandfathers and -grandmothers, I noticed a trend: they were all names of Lord Krsna, His expansions, and His associates. On my father's side, my grandparents were Giridhari Lal (Krsna, lifter of Govardhana Hill) and Ramavathi (Sita Devi, consort of Lord Rama). My great-grandparents were Chayil Bihari (Krsna, the topmost trickster) and Rama Katori (Lord Rama's bowl). On my mother's side, they were Rama Prasad (the mercy of Lord Rama) and Prema Kumari (love of God), and Narayana Das (servant of Krsna's expansion Narayana) and Yashoda Kumari (Yasoda, Krsna's mother).
But as the list progressed, the names became those of qualities: Sudhir (sober), Vivek (knowledge), Sulekha (good writing), Praveen (capable), Asha (hope), Rekha (a line, limit), and so on. Finally, when it came to my generation many of the names reflected a clear Western influence: Dolly, Sweetie, Pinky, Jhilmil (glitter), and so on.
The Vedic tradition of giving one's children names of Krsna is ancient, and in a great many cases it continues to the present, despite the materialistic influence. Perhaps the most famous example of naming one's child after Lord Krsna is found in the story of Ajamila, related in the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Ajamila was at first a gentle and pious brahmana. But because of bad association he fell from his spiritual practices and began living with a prostitute. He spent his days gambling, drinking, and cheating. He had many children, the youngest of whom he named Narayana. Ajamila loved Narayana dearly.
When the inevitable arrived and Ajamila lay on his death bed, he was overcome with fear. Because of his sinful deeds, the ghastly-looking Yamadutas (servants of Yama, the Lord of death) came to take Ajamila to hell. In great anxiety and desperation, Ajamila called out the name of his dearest son, Narayana.
As soon as Ajamila called the name of Narayana, the Visnudutas (servants of Visnu) appeared. They ordered the Yamadutas to stop.
"At the time of death," they said, "this Ajamila helplessly and very loudly chanted the holy name of the Lord, Narayana. One who chants the holy name of the Lord is immediately freed from the reactions of unlimited sins even if he chants indirectly [to indicate something else], jokingly, for musical entertainment, or even neglectfully. … Previously, while eating and at other times, Ajamila would call his son, saying, 'My dear Narayana, please come here.' Simply by chanting the name of Narayana in this way, he sufficiently atoned for the sinful reactions of millions of lives."
So if our family members are named after Lord Krsna, we will receive great spiritual benefit just by calling those names throughout the day. Furthermore, such names may help us remember the Lord at death, when it is most difficult to remember Him.
Spiritual names also make it easier for us to remember that we are all related in the service of Krsna, and that our true position is not as enjoyers but as His servants. For this reason, when the spiritual master gives a disciple a new name upon initiation, he adds the suffix dasa or das", meaning "servant." This signifies a new birth for the disciple as a servant of Krsna.
What is in a name? Not much for names like Dolly, Sweetie, and Pinky. At the end of our lives, material names will be snatched away like everything else. But in the holy name of Krsna lies an unlimited wealth of eternal spiritual benefit. Such should be the names we want in our heritage.
Ravi Gupta, age fifteen, lives at the Hare Krsna center in Boise, Idaho, USA. The center is run by his parents. Ravi, who was schooled at home, is a third-year student at Boise State University.