When Che Guevara joined the Kazhakoottam Government School in Thiruvananthapuram as a new student in class 11, his Physics teacher could hardly contain her laughter when he said his name. After having waited patiently till the mandatory introduction was done, she asked him, “Now tell me what your real name is.”
Che Guevara MR from Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, had always been accustomed to people’s disbelief until he vowed by Che himself. For many, nothing short of flashing his identity card would do the trick.
Of course, Che wasn’t quite alone in this, since his siblings were called Castro MR and Valentina MR.
Unsurprisingly, G Maniyan, their father was a committed communist. And so, his three children were named after Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman cosmonaut who later became a prominent member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.
Castro, the eldest of the three siblings, says, “I remember the time I was studying in LKG and I would tag along with my father to party committee meetings. Even later, he would take us with him to meet other party members, who looked up to our father for his courage to name three children after communist revolutionaries.”
True to their names, the three siblings went on to become active in student politics while in college and continue to be involved in party work.
For 29-year-old Che Guevara, the peculiarity of his name first struck a chord when he was in Class 5, although he had known that he was named for a revolutionary before then. “But back then I was too little to have identified with the principles. It was somewhere between 1996 and 1998 that a Malayalam play, “Che Guevara”, bagged the State Award for the best play. That is when I began to read up on Che, and realized the depth of my father’s commitment to the party,” he says.
Though their names got noticed through their lives, until Che Guevara first went for a job opportunity, he never realised just how much his name could be held against him.
“The interviewers were taken aback when they learned about my name, and were worried that I would stir up an agitation at the company. They asked me whether I would take part in strikes against the firm,” he says.
After replying that he would not hesitate where matters concerned employees, he says, he never heard from them again.
Castro, however, says that apart from the occasional bullying from kids while playing cricket at a very young age, his name never gave him any. “Curiosity is something I see on everybody’s faces when I say my name. But soon the novelty fades off and everything is back to normal."
Of course, says Castro, a lab technician at the Government Medical College in Thiruvananthapuram, every once in a while patients at the hospital mistake his name for “Gastro” and dismiss him saying they didn’t need directions to the gastroenterology department.
Castro is married to Saranya, whose extended family has connections to the Congress party. Though politics stays strictly off the table within the family, Castro wonders whether his father would have approved of it, if he were alive.
Valentina with her parents
Valentina MR, who now lives in Kollam, says that of the three she received the least notice since few people were aware of who Valentina Tereshkova was.
“Not everyone knew about Valentina back then. I have had instances where people brought up their own theories that I got my name because I must have been born on Valentine's Day," she says.
She adds that her husband has often told her that it was the peculiarity of their names, that first got him interested in the marriage proposal.