I have a long name; it’s long, and it’s Indian, and I live in America. Consequently, I have spent long years telling people my name, and seeing them squint as they try it out in their own heads.
Anagha Bharadwaj. Most people have so much trouble with my first name that they never bother moving to the last.
A-Na-Gha, I say slowly, phonetically. I promise, it’s not difficult – six letters, three syllables. If you’re really confused, make that ‘H’ silent, and it should all make sense.
“OH!” They exclaim, excited at having cracked this foreign code. “Like Hannukah, but not!”
I say no, not at really at all. And they squint, and they try it out, and sometimes it takes weeks for them to get it right – one of my professors took eight weeks – a full half of the semester – to pronounce my name properly.
But others don’t even try. They turn their heads sideways and ask, gingerly “Can I call you Ana?” And they look at me, slightly afraid that I’m going to fly into a rage, but mostly certain that they will get their wish, that I will say “yes, please, say whatever is comfortable for you.”
And I’m afraid I’m going to fly into a rage too. My face heats up, and alongside the humiliation of being put on the spot, of not having a name like Jen or Sarah or Emma, there is a white hot anger that my name is so unimportant that it can be changed. I feel myself start to say “yes,” start to be polite and accept their inability to say my name as inherent, and I pull the word back. I feel the words stop in my throat, held back, wanting to be set free. My gut churns as I consider having to answer to Ana – this name that is not mine that someone arbitrarily made mine because they couldn’t comprehend my real name.
Why should MY name be about YOUR comfort?
My name has a history behind it. It has a story, where they named me one thing, then another, and then my father put his foot down. I have the force of my father’s will in my name. My name has my mother’s struggle as she spent nine difficult months carrying me, only to be knocked out for the delivery due to pregnancy complications that demanded full anesthesia. The force of my mother’s love is in my name. My name is bolstered by generations of people with names like mine. My name is a wish from God. My name has meaning – ‘she who commits no sins’. My name is something I aspire to be, an intrinsic part of my identity. The force of God’s virtue and divinity is in my name.
My name is Indian, a country I was born in but never truly lived in. My name is a symbol of my heritage, history, culture, religious tradition, and family. My name is what links me to an understanding of peace and oppression, violence and freedom. My name is not arbitrary, and I will not give you the right to make it that.
I refuse to anglicize my name for your comfort. I refuse to whitewash my soul so that it might fit more easily with yours.
Why is it that you insist I use the proper words and spelling for everything else, Mrs. Sixth-Grade-English-Teacher, but you think it’s okay to alter my name without regard for meaning or identity? Do words mean so little to you?
Or is it just my identity that you’ve found to be negligible?