“You must not laugh at me, darling, but it had always been a girlish dream of mine to love someone whose name was Ernest...There is something in that name that seems to inspire absolute confidence. I pity any poor married woman whose husband is not called Ernest.”— – Cecily Cardew, 'The Importance of Being Earnest' by Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde, writing his play on love and handbags in 19th century London, cracked one important dating secret – you need to have the right name. Going by online dating app Tinder and mildly aristocratic Victorian society, at least.
The most smouldering profile picture and serious travel swag may not get you far if you are called, say, Budhendranath.
Recently, Tinder released a list of names that were swiped right the most in 2016. For the uninitiated, swiping right on the online dating app is vaguely similar to choosing fruit – this one has a good colour and looks like it will be sweet, I’ll put it in the bag. Only in this case, the fruit can choose you back, a double coincidence of wants that could even result in a date.
There are different lists for different countries. In India, the most wanted girl’s names are Aanchal, Sonal, Kritika, Sakshi, Himani, Sonam, Natasha, Sanjana, Shivani, Isha.
Among the boys, Lalit, Joel, Kushagra, Junaid, Ryan, Sandip, Joshua, Amir, Satya and Michael have it good. It is not clear if one particularly desirable Aanchal got swiped right thousands of times, thus skewing the balance in favour of the name. Let us assume that if your name is Aanchal, you are catnip to potential suitors.
Is there a pattern here? Indian male fantasies – while there are women looking for other women, it may be safe to say they are not a numerically-influential group on Tinder in India – seem to be firmly of the Bollywood-meets-Balaji Telefilms aesthetic. The girls’ names on the list are largely North Indian, Hindu, and possibly amenable to dancing in mustard fields.
Remember Sanjana, alias Kareena Kapoor, from Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon, whose romantic fortunes somehow depended on an animated macaw? And Urmila Matondkar sashaying about while Sanjay Dutt tails her, singing “Aye, Shivani”?
Across the world, reel life seem to have inspired people’s sexual or romantic choices. In the United States, on Tinder, the most wanted female name was Hannah, which could refer, a bit disturbingly, to tween icon Hannah Montana, played by Miley Cyrus. Emma and Julia were also high on the list. Because who would not want to date Hermione Granger as played by Emma Watson? Or Julia Roberts, whose toothy smile won cases against corporate giants in Erin Brockovich?
In Britain, it was a mix of royalty and the movies. Amelia, high on the list, is the name of a young Windsor recently crowned the most beautiful royal. And Daily Mail reminds readers that Olivia is also the name of Olivia Wilde, the extravagantly cheek-boned actress who plays a brilliant but doomed doctor in the series House MD (come to think of it, most doctors in House MD could be characterised as brilliant, but doomed).
Research suggests that the movies often determine which names are fashionable, which in turn determines what people call their babies. In England, the most popular baby names for boys were also the top names for names swiped right on Tinder.
None of the lists, however, reflect the diverse populations of these countries. Much like India, names from ethnic minorities figure nowhere on the British and American lists for women. One could blame the movie industries for not being diverse enough. But is it a coincidence that this is the America of Donald Trump, the Britain of Brexit and the India of jack-in-the-box nationalism?
What would Karan Johar say?
But what then explains the list of men’s names? Karan Johar staples such as Rahul, Rohan, Yash and Raj are missing. Apart from Amir, the first names of popular movie stars do not fare well either. Indeed, the movies seem to have nothing to do with women’s choices.
They prefer a more old-fashioned Lalit, which, as the name of a fraudulent tycoon in the cricketing business, should not have inspired much confidence. Or a Sandip, who last aspired to romance as the militant revolutionary in Rabindranath Tagore’s Home and the World. Looks like the Byronic cult of being “mad, bad and dangerous to know” is alive and well. More difficult to fathom is the appeal of a Kushagra, which means “angular” and is also the name of a Bajaj scion. A solid investment, perhaps.
The men’s list, however, breaks away from the majoritarian monopoly, featuring Christian and Muslim names as well. Are the Joels and Ryans on Tinder part of the floating expat population in metropolitan cities, which tend to see a larger number of female users? Does white privilege in online dating apply to India as well as the West?
With the heavily skewed gender ratios that plague most online dating apps, a relatively small number of women are likely to come across a large, diverse group of men on Tinder. And the Aanchals and Shivanis of this world, it seems, are willing to look beyond their own communities instead of pairing up with the Rahuls. Men and women in India, it seems, are dreaming of different romantic worlds.