What influenced the baby name Sanjana in India?

The character Sanjana/Sanju (played by Aishwarya Rai) from a Lehar Pepsi commercial that aired in India in 1993.
“Hi, I’m Sanjana. Got another Pepsi?”

In her fascinating essay “The Namesakes,” author Sanjana Ramachandran tells the story of how a soft drink commercial that aired In India in 1993 popularized the baby name Sanjana.

Before we get to that story, though, a bit of background:

India, upon attaining independence in 1947, established a state-controlled economy that was essentially closed to the outside world. Under this system, the Indian consumer had very little choice in the marketplace and had to endure long wait-times for goods like cars, scooters, and wristwatches.

Even television — which introduced in the late 1950s, but didn’t go national until the early 1980s — was controlled by the state; government-owned Doordarshan was India’s sole broadcaster for over three decades.

All this changed in mid-1991, when India was forced (due to an economic crisis) to initiate a series of reforms. With economic liberalization came choice for the consumer, who could now start buying imported goods at the store and enjoying new content on television.

In the early days of India’s newly invigorated economy, American company PepsiCo — using the Indianized name “Lehar Pepsi” (lehar means “wave” in Hindi) — launched a marketing campaign in India that featured the Hindi-English slogan “Yeh Hi Hai Right Choice Baby, A-Ha.” (It was a spin-off of the “You Got The Right One Baby, Uh-Huh” campaign in the U.S.)

One of the commercials in that campaign was a 50-second spot that aired in 1993. It starred Bollywood actor Aamir Khan and two then-unknown female actresses, Mahima Chaudhry and Aishwarya Rai (pronounced ash-WUH-ree-ah RIE, roughly).

Here’s the commercial:

Here’s a description of the commercial, in case you don’t want to watch:

A young man is alone in his apartment, absentmindedly singing to himself, when the doorbell rings. He opens the door to find a pretty young woman, who enters and says, “Hi, I’m your new neighbor. Can I have a Lehar Pepsi?” He responds, “Uh, yeah, sure.” As he heads to the kitchen, he shows his excitement with a jump and a quiet “Yes!” She is idly looking around his apartment when he reaches the fridge…only to discover an empty bottle of Lehar Pepsi. He calls out (in Hindi) to ask if something else would suffice. She responds (in Hindi) that no, only a Lehar Pepsi will do. He already has one leg out the kitchen window as he calls back, “No problem.” He goes out onto the fire escape — the window slams shut behind him — and jumps down to the street. It’s raining outside. He spots a store selling Pepsi across the street. He tries to cross, but nearly gets hit by a car, so instead he jumps roof-to-roof over the traffic to reach the store just before it closes (diving beneath the security shutter as it comes down). He has a bottle of Pepsi in his hand as he runs up the fire escape steps. He finds the window locked. Just as the woman starts walking toward the kitchen (calling, “You okay in there?”) there’s the sound of glass shattering. The man comes out of the kitchen — soaking wet, out of breath — and hands her the bottle, saying, “Your Lehar Pepsi.” Then there’s a knock at the door. The woman says, “That must be Sanju.” “Sanju?” the man repeats, with a worried look on his face. A second woman suddenly comes into view behind them. She leans seductively against the wall and says, “Hi, I’m Sanjana. Got another Pepsi?”

The man’s moment of distress toward the end stems from the fact that “Sanju” is a gender-neutral diminutive. He assumes that Sanju must be male — probably the woman’s boyfriend — but is pleasantly surprised to see that this is not the case.

The Lehar Pepsi commercial was edgy and young, and TV audiences loved it:

The immediate reaction to the commercial was so overwhelming that the makers had to disconnect their phone lines. “Everyone aged 12 and above was calling to ask, ‘Who is this Sanju?’” [director of the commercial Prahlad] Kakar recalled.

Among the admirers were a number of expectant parents. According to voter rolls from the 2015 Delhi assembly elections, “more than twice as many Sanjanas [were] born in 1993 [than] in the preceding three years.” In fact, data indicates that the names Sanjana and Aishwarya both saw an increase in usage thanks to the commercial. Sanjana Ramachandran says that this “points to an interchangeability in markers of aspiration between character and actor. It was the aura — the ‘vibe’ — that parents were going for.”

Ramachandran spoke to nearly 50 other Sanjanas via the internet, and discovered that many of these Sanjanas were born years after the commercial had stopped airing:

Sanjana Parag Desai’s mother had known what she was going to call her daughter for eight years. Sanjana Harikumar’s mother had known for nine. […] Arun Thomas, who named his daughter Sanjana in 2009, vividly recalls the first time he heard the name.

Oddly, the name saw higher usage in the U.S. as well in 1993:

Sanjana usageAishwarya usage
199633 baby girls15 baby girls
199525 baby girls8 baby girls [debut]
199413 baby girls.
199316 baby girls.
19928 baby girls.
19915 baby girls.

Perhaps the commercial influenced U.S. baby names via Indian-Americans who were traveling back and forth between the two countries that year…?

If the commercial was indeed the influence, it didn’t have the same effect on the name Aishwarya, which didn’t debut in the U.S. baby name data until after Aishwarya Rai won the Miss World pageant in late 1994.

What are your thoughts on the name Sanjana? Do you know any Sanjanas named after the Pepsi commercial?

P.S. If the Lehar Pepsi commercial seemed eerily familiar to you — as it did to me at first — stay tuned for tomorrow’s post!

Sources:

Name Quotes #102: Dana, Besta, Jeter

Welcome to the latest batch of name quotes! Here we go…

From an interview with English actor Marcus Rutherford in British GQ:

Marcus Rutherford realised The Wheel Of Time was going to be a big deal when he heard about the baby names. It was his birthday, not long after he’d been cast as the young blacksmith Perrin Aybara in Amazon’s new big-budget adaptation of Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy book series, and he decided […] to check out some of the birthday wishes on Twitter from a handful of die-hard Wheel Of Time fan accounts. […] “A lot of it came in, then there was a picture of a newborn baby. And this guy was like, ‘This is Perrin, who’s just been born. I’ve named him after your character. He says happy birthday.'”

From an interview with Brazilian soccer player Oleúde José Ribeiro (translated from Portuguese):

Q: But, after all, is your name, Oleúde, inspired by Hollywood or not?

A: No, no, it was just a brilliant idea from my parents (laughs). Like it or not, this story always helped me, it drew the attention of reporters… the late Luciano do Valle always asked listeners to guess my name, saying that it was the capital of cinema, it had a lot of impact at the time. This Hollywood thing has become a legend, but it has nothing to do with it.

From the obituary of Dana Marie Ek in Fauquier Now:

Dana was born on October 19, 1995, in Astoria, Oregon. She was named after the Dana Glacier — located deep in the wilds of the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area, because her father thought it was the most beautiful place on heaven or earth.

From an MLB.com article recounting how Jeter Downs met Derek Jeter:

So the man named after Derek Jeter by his baseball-crazed mother — even though his father is a Red Sox fan — had never actually met Derek Jeter?

It finally happened last week in a random encounter on a road in South Florida — sort of.

“This last week, I was driving, me and my brother were driving to go to [the] train,” said Downs. “We’re in traffic. My brother sees this Range Rover pulling up. He was like, ‘Oh my God, is that Jeter?’ He honks and I wave at him.

“I’m doing training with Raul Ibanez, [Jeter’s former teammate]. I called Raul and said, ‘Tell [Derek] Jeter that the kid he was waving at was Jeter [Downs].’ So then he told him that and it was pretty cool that I met him that way.”

From an article about Manchester twins named Ronnie and Reggie (like the famous London criminals Ronnie and Reggie Kray):

[W]e found two sets of twins and siblings named Ronnie and Reggie, as well as some Ronnies on their own.

Among them are the adorable twins pictured above (main image). Their mum said: “I thought it was only me capable of calling mine Ronnie and Reggie.”

But she’s far from alone. As well as finding another pair of twins with the same names, Moston mum Kellie Smart shared a picture of her sons, five-year-old Reggie Urch and Ronnie Urch, who turns four next week.

“People stop me all the time and ask are they twins and laugh when I tell them their names,” said Kellie, also mum to teenagers Mollie and Thomas.

From a 2007 article called “You Are What Your Name Says You Are” in the New York Times:

Sociologists like Mr. Besnard observed that first names [in France] were often quick markers of social and educational status. As another Libération reader, an elementary school teacher, pointed out: “I can often guess the ‘profile’ of a child thanks to the first name. A ‘Maxime,’ a ‘Louise,’ a ‘Kevin,’ a ‘Lolita.’ It’s sad, but that’s how it often works.” That is, Maxime and Louise probably have wealthy parents, while Kevin and Lolita are more likely to have a working- or lower-middle-class background.

Indeed, bourgeois French parents are unlikely to give their children “Anglo-Saxon” names; Jennifer was the most popular name for girls from 1984 to 1986, but it’s a safe bet few Jennifers came from well-educated families. (The craze is commonly explained by the success of the TV series “Hart to Hart” in France at that time — Jennifer Hart was one of the title characters — while “Beverly Hills, 90210,” featuring a popular character named Dylan McKay, is sometimes blamed for the explosion of Dylans a few years later.)

And finally, a bevy of B-names from basketball player Bradley Beal’s “About Brad” page:

Born on June 28, 1993, and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, by Bobby and Besta Beal, there was little doubt that Brad would eventually be an athlete. Both parents played sports for Kentucky State — Bobby was a football player, Besta a basketball player.

[…]

There were four other people in Brad’s family who were instrumental in his development as an athlete, and ultimately, as a young man. His two older brothers, Bruce and Brandon, and his younger brothers, the twins Byron and Bryon.

Popular Baby Names in Ireland, 2020

According to data from Ireland’s Central Statistics Office (CSO), the most popular baby names in the country in 2020 were Grace and Jack.

Here are Ireland’s top 10 girl names and top 10 boy names of 2020:

Girl Names

  1. Grace, 410 baby girls
  2. Fiadh (pronounced fee-a), 366
  3. Emily, 329
  4. Sophie, 328
  5. Ava, 297
  6. Amelia, 275
  7. Ella, 265 (tie)
  8. Hannah, 265 (tie)
  9. Lucy, 261
  10. Mia, 251

Boy Names

  1. Jack, 597 baby boys
  2. James, 495
  3. Noah, 447
  4. Daniel, 359
  5. Conor, 345
  6. Finn, 331
  7. Liam, 329
  8. Fionn, 323
  9. Harry, 311
  10. Charlie, 305

In the girls’ top 10, Lucy replaced Ellie.

In the boys’ top 10, Finn, Fionn and Harry replaced Adam, Luke and Tadhg.

The fastest-rising names in the top 100 in terms of numbers of babies were:

  • Éabha (+56 baby girls), Bonnie (+46), Fiadh (+32), Ada (+31), Croía (+24)
  • Finn (+75 baby boys), Benjamin (+33), Fionn (+32), Rían (+23), Tommy (+23)

Notably, Éabha was the fastest-rising name in 2019 as well.

And the fastest-rising in terms of rank were:

  • Croía (+67 spots), Cora (+37), Nina (+36), Elsie (+35), Bonnie/Penny (tied at +31)
  • Rian (+33 spots), Eoghan (+29), Benjamin (+25), Shane (+24), Sonny (+22)

The modern name Croía is based on the Irish word croí, meaning “heart,” “core,” “sweetheart.” The recent trendiness can be attributed to Irish MMA fighter Conor McGregor, who welcomed a baby girl named Croía in January of 2019.

Sources: Irish Babies’ Names 2020 – Babies’ Names 2020 Tables, Press Statement Irish Babies’ Names 2020, Croía – Behind the Name, Croí – Wiktionary

Name Quotes #90: Charli, Ottilie, Diego Armando

Time for another batch of name quotes!

From a 2004 interview with Bob Dylan, as recorded in the 2018 book Dylan on Dylan by Jeff Burger (found via Abby’s Instagram post – thanks!):

Bradley: So you didn’t see yourself as Robert Zimmerman?

Dylan: No, for some reason I never did.

Bradley: Even before you started performing?

Dylan: Nah, even then. Some people get born with the wrong names, wrong parents. I mean, that happens.

Bradley: Tell me how you decided on Bob Dylan?

Dylan: You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free.

From an article about the Dunkin’ Donuts drink named after Charli D’Amelio:

“The Charli,” which debuted Sept. 2, is a new Dunkin’ drink based on the go-to order of 16-year-old Charli D’Amelio, who is currently the most followed person on TikTok with 84.8 million followers. D’Amelio, a Connecticut native, has regularly expressed her love both for Dunkin’ and her signature dance moves.

From an article about a mom who changed her baby’s name from Ottilie to Margot:

As for [mom Carri] Kessler, when all was said and done, she went back to the original Ottilie who had inspired the choice and asked what the name had been like for her.

“She was like, ‘Yeah my name has been really character-building,'” Kessler says. “And I was like, ‘Why didn’t you tell me that before?!’ I feel like life is character-building. She doesn’t need a character-building name as well.”

[One of Carri’s friends now calls her daughter Nottilie, short for “Not Ottilie.”]

From Chrissy Teigen’s Instagram post about the loss of her third baby:

We never decide on our babies’ names until the last possible moment after they’re born, just before we leave the hospital. But we, for some reason, had started to call this little guy in my belly Jack. So he will always be Jack to us. Jack worked so hard to be a part of our little family, and he will be, forever.

From an article about how the name Karen has become a handicap in dating, according to the dating app Wingman:

Women named Karen say their love lives have taken a hit since the name became synonymous with pushy, entitled middle-aged women — and more recently, racist ones who target people of color.

[…]

According to the app’s data, women named Karen have received 31 per cent fewer matches this year compared to last, and messages sent by women named Karen got 1/3 fewer responses than last year.

Overall, Karens have seen a 45 per cent drop in engagement.

Women with other spellings of the name — Karin, Carin, Caren — have seen a smaller drop, 22 per cent, but a drop all the same.

From an article in The Economist about the unusual names of Tabasco, Mexico (found via A Mitchell’s tweet – thanks!):

[The unusual names] impressed Amado Nervo, a Mexican poet. In every family “there is a Homer, a Cornelia, a Brutus, a Shalmanasar and a Hera,” he wrote in “The Elysian Fields of Tabasco”, which was published in 1896. Rather than scour the calendar for saints’ names, he wrote, parents of newborns “search for them in ‘The Iliad’, ‘The Aeneid’, the Bible and in the history books”. Andrés Iduarte, a Tabascan essayist of the 20th century, concurred. Tabasco is a place “of Greek names and African soul”, he wrote, endorsing the cliche that the state has similarities with Africa.

From a newspaper article about soccer player Diego Maradona’s influence on baby names in Naples in July of 1984, soon after he’d joined S.S.C. Napoli:

Maternity hospitals reported another 30 new-born babies named Diego Armando, raising the count to 140 so far.

[Maradona died in late November. Last Friday, the Naples city council unanimously voted to change the name of the city’s stadium from “Stadio San Paolo” to “Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.” (CBS Sports)]

Popular Baby Names in England and Wales, 2019

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the most popular baby names in England and Wales last year were, yet again, Olivia and Oliver.

Here are the top 10 girl names and top 10 boy names of 2019:

Girl Names

  1. Olivia, 4,082 baby girls
  2. Amelia, 3,712
  3. Isla, 2,981
  4. Ava, 2,946
  5. Mia, 2,500
  6. Isabella, 2,398
  7. Sophia, 2,332
  8. Grace, 2,330
  9. Lily, 2,285
  10. Freya, 2,264

Boy Names

  1. Oliver, 4,932 baby boys
  2. George, 4,575
  3. Noah, 4,265
  4. Arthur, 4,211
  5. Harry, 3,823
  6. Leo, 3,637
  7. Muhammad, 3,604
  8. Jack, 3,381
  9. Charlie, 3,355
  10. Oscar, 3,334

In the girls’ top 10, Lily and Freya replaced Emily and Ella. The boys’ top ten includes the same ten names as in 2018.

In the girls’ top 100, Lara and Mabel replaced Aisha and Francesca. In the boys’ top 100, Alfred, Chester, Hudson, Ibrahim and Oakley replaced Alex, Dexter, Dominic, Kai, Sonny and Tobias.

The fastest risers within the top 100 were Hallie (on the girls’ list) and Tommy (on the boys’).

Several names that saw increased usage due to pop culture were…

  • The girl name Dua, now at an all-time high thanks to English pop singer Dua Lipa, whose parents were Kosovar refugees.*
  • The boy name Kylo, thanks to the Star Wars sequel trilogy. (Kylo debuted in 2015, the year the first film was released.)
  • The boy name Taron, inspired by actor Taron Egerton, who was featured in the 2019 Elton John biopic Rocketman.

Here are the top ten lists for England and Wales separately, if you’d like to compare the regions…

England’s top ten…Wales’s top ten…
Girl NamesOlivia, Amelia, Isla, Ava, Mia, Isabella, Grace, Sophia, Lily, EmilyOlivia, Amelia, Isla, Ava, Freya, Willow, Mia, Ella, Rosie, Elsie
Boy NamesOliver, George, Arthur, Noah, Harry, Muhammad, Leo, Jack, Oscar, CharlieOliver, Noah, Charlie, Jacob, Theo, George, Leo, Arthur, Oscar, Alfie

Finally, here are some of the rare baby names from the other end of the rankings. Each one was given to exactly 3 babies in England and Wales last year.

Rare Girl NamesRare Boy Names
Aiste, Bella-Blue, Cosmina, Dolcieanna, Elliw, Floella, Gurveen, Harerta, Iffah, Jainaba, Kalsoom, Lussy, Mallie, Nellie-Beau, Otterly, Primavera, Reevie, Saffanah, Tuppence, Venba, Winter-Lily, Yidis, ZeemalAuburn, Boycie, Cybi, Dawsey, Eason, Folarin, Glyndwr, Hadrian, Isaa, Johnjo, Kaniel, Lazo, Madani, Now, Olgierd, Pijus, Rakai, Smit, Taqi, Veselin, Wilby, Yilmaz, Zarel

Cybi, pronounced “kubby,” is the (Welsh) name of a 6th-century Cornish saint.

Sources: Baby names in England and Wales: 2019, Baby names for boys in England and Wales (dataset), Baby names for girls in England and Wales (dataset)

*Kosovar refugees are also mentioned in the posts on Amerikan and Tonibler.