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In South Gujarat, ‘Sonia’ Is A Man

| Updated: May 5, 2024 14:13

Sonia Gandhi may be the first lady of the Congress party but in some tribal communities in south Gujarat, ‘Sonia’ is a common name of the patriarchs of the family and not the womenfolk.

The name, believed to have been derived from the Greek name ‘Sophia’, which means wisdom, traditionally has a feminine association in several countries.

However, the name assumes a unique masculine identity among the tribes, where men have borne the moniker ‘Soniabhai’ for nearly eight decades.

Certainly their parents bestowed the name upon them, attributing it to simplicity and its distinctive sound rather than any specific rationale and the scions have no idea how or why it came to be associated with their identity.

For Sonia Chaudhary of Diwan Temrun village in Ahwa, Dang, the significance of his name remains shrouded in mystery. “There are many by this name in Dang. It is a popular name among people in my age group,” says the 65-year-old who has spent his entire life living in the forest and doing farming.

Similarly, Sonia Gamit from Bhadbhuja village in Uchhal area of Tapi district expresses ignorance about the meaning of his name. “Earlier, there were many men by this name. However, this trend is dwindling,” says the 36-year-old.

Dahya Vadhu, a researcher in the Kunkna tribal language, explains the name’s significance: “In a marriage song of the Kunkna tribe, Sonia means valuable like gold. The term is often used to honour esteemed guests.”

This name was in use for more than eight decades. Sonia Chaudhary of Chankhal village in Dang was a popular folk artist who sang the ‘katha’ (story) in Kunkna.”

Sonia Gavit, a 58-year-old from Murambi village in the Waghai area of Dang, says, “In villages surrounding mine, there are at least seven persons by this name. I was young when I was given this name after my parents consulted a priest.”

Social scientists hark back to the cultural underpinnings behind tribal naming conventions, citing the propensity to draw inspiration from the natural environment.

For example, Rupji is a common name. It probably comes from ‘Rupu’, which means silver in some tribal languages. Similarly, Sonia must have been derived from ‘Sonu’ or ‘Sona’, which means gold.

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