The Disappearing Dak Nam

For many Bengalis, the naming tradition is a way to express cultural pride and intimacy. But for others, it might be on the way out.

namesake baby shaving
Tabu and Irrfan Khan with baby Gogol in The Namesake (2006)

Farah Akbar


February 20, 2024


8 min

To some, fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee is “Pepsi,” writer Nilanjana Lahiri is “Jhumpa,” and actor Bipasha Basu is “Bonnie.” These names come from the Bengali practice of assigning two names, a dak nam — literally “the name they call you” — and a bhalo nam — an official or “good” name. 

Loudmila Hassan, now a 28-year-old healthcare worker, knows about this all too well. When she was a young child, people called her Ivana. She didn’t realize her name was Loudmila until she was about to enter kindergarten in Woodside, Queens. “I was so confused thinking, ‘Who is Loudmila?’ Up until then, she never really existed,” she said.

For many Bengalis, dak nams are more than just cute and sometimes funny-sounding nicknames. They represent the community’s pride in a language and culture it has fought hard to preserve. For a new generation of Bengalis, however, dak nams may not be worth the trouble.

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