Theme and message

Table of contents


The main theme explored in the memoir excerpt “By Any Other Name” by Santha Rama Rau is the theme of identity. The theme is illustrated by the two sisters, Santha and Premila, who refuse to change who they are only to fit in.

The text’s title is relevant to the theme. The sentence is taken from William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. In the play, Juliet says “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, arguing that she does not care if Romeo belongs to the rival house Montague. In “By Any Other Name”, the title suggests that things cannot change what they are, even if they are given another name. 

On their first day at the Anglo-Indian school, the girls’ names are changed from Santha and Premila to Cynthia and Pamela. This moment marks the headmistress’ attempt to change the girls’ identity and force them to follow British customs. However, the girls remain bound to their cultural identity. Santha, for example, feels that Cynthia is an uninteresting alter-ego and is not concerned with her experiences:

At that age, if one’s name is changed, one develops a curious form of dual personality. I remember having a certain detached and disbelieving concern in the actions of ‘Cynthia’, but certainly ...

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