My Surname is a Living Totem

Poonam Francis
4 min readJan 29, 2022


I’m Not Exaggerating

Photo by Keenan Novis from Pexels

As soon as I introduce myself to people as, “Hello, I’m Poonam Dungdung” people give me a strange look at the end of the sentence as if they heard something wrong, different or new . Before I move on to my next sentence, they interrupt me by asking what did you just say? Or, please can you repeat your name or some even say, sorry but Poonam what ?

Initially, I used to get offended as I’d to repeat myself. However, now, I enjoy the look on their faces and the confusion it creates in their minds. I’m so sorry if you too made such a face. The fact is I can’t change my surname — it goes with me everywhere and I love it.

My Surname Saga

So “Dungdung” surname has made me famous and I bet nobody forgets me due to it’s uniqueness( be it’s pronunciation or spelling). Let me give you an idea of the questions people ask me. Here it goes….

  1. Why you use the word ‘dung’ twice, isn’t once enough?
  2. Don’t you feel awkward carrying this weird surname with your name?
  3. Who chose this surname for you?
  4. Did you run out of good surnames?
  5. How do you deal with the teasing?
  6. Will you opt to change your surname if you get another chance?
  7. Can we use Dung2 ( Dung square) for your spelling instead of dungdung?

I can go on forever with these type of questions, however I’m amused with the attention it draws. Now that I’ve spoken a lot about it , let me bring the cat out of the box.

I totally agree it’s an unusual Indian surname. I too was unhappy with my surname when in school as my peer group teased me. As I reached college, this weird surname of mine helped me make friends and I realized it’s worth. Having said that, let me walk you through it’s uniqueness.

Interesting and Fun Facts About My Surname

  1. I belong to a tribe called ‘Kharia’ who are primitive aborigines of India. We speak a language called kharia language. My surname ‘Dungdung’ in kharia language means freshwater Eel which is derived from one of the totems.
  2. A totem is a natural object or animal that is believed by a particular society, clan, family, tribe to have spiritiual significance and that is adopted by it as an emblem.
  3. In ancient times, the first animal, bird or thing our forefathers saw, they held it sacred and chose as their totems.Totems were worshipped and forbidden to be eaten. In my case, I cannot eat eels as it is considered sacred by whosoever shares my surname.
  4. Interestingly, it is believed one even derives the nature, qualities, weaknesses of the assigned totem. In my case, I’m believed to be swift,agile as an eel. Being slimy in nature, it’s impossible to catch hold of the eels— it stands true for the people sharing the same surname. Symbolically,it means it is difficult to understand the nature, personality of a person easily.
  5. Eels are shy in nature, avoid light and swiftly swim away to safe haven. These traits are seen in people bearing my surname.
  6. These folklores have come a long way and still stand true in some cases.

Well, the kharia tribe also has other surnames. I’m wondering whether you are still glued to my post — if yes is the answer, I’m so thankful for showing interest.

Other surnames include Kullu — Tortoise, Baa — Rice grain, Kerketta — Bird, Soreng — Stone, Bilung — Salt. Kiro — Tiger, Tete — egret( a bird). All the animals,birds, things mentioned here represent their clan and are considered sacred and forbidden to eat.

Some Exceptions

The Baa surname means ‘rice grain’ and people bearing this surname can eat rice as it’s a staple food of tribals. Also, we Indians are fond of eating rice so some exception were considered.

The surname Bilung means ‘salt’ and they are believed to mix well with the people around them as beautifully as salt helps to enhance and itself merges with the taste of food. The only thing not allowed is to lick salt with their little finger( though they can use salt for cooking).

Final Thoughts

As a tribal woman, I proudly and strongly uphold my tribal customs, traditions and beliefs and most importantly my surname which is dear to me and gives me my uniqueness.

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Poonam Francis

An Educator, Writer, Constant Learner, Traveller, Music lover, and a Newbie in Medium. I'm here for my love for writing.