My name is Sharada (Sha-ruh-tha), but for the majority of my life I have introduced myself as (Shar-duh) to save Non-South Asians the discomfort of saying my name correctly. I had been introducing myself as Shar-da to Non-South Asians for as long as I can remember. I have no clue why my name became ‘Shar-duh’ and not “Sha-RA-duh” or some other random pronunciation. Maybe it was just easier for my school teachers to say and that’s how people interpreted my name based off how my parents introduced me.
My parents’ last name is ‘Chengalvarayan’, but when I was born they decided to shorten it to ‘Rayan’. I have so many memories of white people being so amused by my father’s name. My parents selflessly changed my name, because they didn’t want me to go what they went through. From my birth I was inherently taught that I must change who I am to accommodate to white people. My last name had been colonized. The earliest memories I have from school include me being bullied for my name. Sharada is another name for the Hindu goddess Saraswati - the goddess of wealth and knowledge, and a name that pays honor to my great-grandmother, a matriarch from my dad’s side of the family. Instead of calling me by my name, I was called Shart-a, Fart-a, and Retard-a.
Every single time I had a new teacher or substitute-I knew that they had gotten to my name on the attendance list when there was a long pause followed by a very confused look on their face. Most of the time, these adults would make a big deal about how complicated my name was. Because it made them so uncomfortable, they felt the need to alienate me from the rest of the class. During my school years, I found it humorous and would laugh it off. But these moments subconsciously made me foster so much hatred for my name, for my identity and my culture. Looking back on it now, it brings me a lot of sadness. My name is sacred. “Your name is a spiritual vibration that summons you into the space that you are in. “ - Becca, a friend I made today. All throughout my life, I had been dishonoring my name.
I am not sure when exactly this clicked, but I think I started to pronounce my name correctly about a year ago, when I heard someone (a non-brown person) say my name correctly and my heart felt so full and I had butterflies. Is this how it should feel to be called by your name? It felt so amazing to be called by the name my parents gave me. Why was I depriving myself of this beautiful feeling, just to make other people feel more comfortable? From that day on, I started introducing myself with my real name. It was really hard and scary to do at first, but now when I introduce myself I say my name with pride, and I correct people when they pronounce it wrong. Most people were very receptive to my feedback, and actually appreciated it.
I currently work at an Indian café where most of the customers come from a South Asian background. When I pronounce their names correctly when calling out their filter coffee or chai, they usually give me such a big smile, and we both share a look of understanding and empathy. Some people still give me their initials and fake names (out of habit). Sometimes I call them out for this, but other times I let it be. I understand how exhausting it is to have to explain your name every single day.
I came to the realization that if I change the way I orally say my name, when I die, my name will die with me. All that will be left is a pronunciation of letters that exist only because it made a certain subgroup of people feel less uncomfortable. If I mispronounce my own name, I am letting my culture and identity slip, and am giving way into internalized racism. That is why I am reclaiming and decolonizing, my name. I want to empower others to do so as well. So here is my challenge for you. The next time you order coffee or meet someone new, say your original name. Pay attention to how it makes you feel. The next time, say your original name, and correct them if they pronounce it wrong. Notice how It makes you feel. Keep doing this until it becomes a habit. Reclaim your name.
Below are some thoughts that I received from people about their relationship to their names:
“2nd grade soccer team, coach wants to call me Sam, he says Samia is too complicated. I ask Mom. She says fuckkk that…I named you Samia and he can learn how to say it right. Not complicated at all. I was embarrassed at the time. Now I’m so so grateful she made me stand my ground. Today, I’m proud of my roots. I’m not gonna whitewash the beauty out of my identity to make other people comfortable“
“Sometimes distancing yourself from your name to escape stereotypes can be cathartic“
“It used to bother me so I shortened my name. It’s easy for me.“
“Sadly at a certain point you get more comfortable with the new pronunciation.“
“It doesn’t bother me if it’s their first time pronouncing it”
“Seen groups of Indians who all call each other by the white versions of their names“
“Other Indians from different areas pronounce my name wrong“
“I changed my name for work :(“
“I’ve started pronouncing my last name with an accent because that’s what it is.“
“I order food as Duba but now they call me dubs and it’s too late to tell them my real name.“
“Many non-BAME ‘misread’ my name as Sadie - even when I introduce myself as Sadia.“
“My parents gave me an English name and Chinese name. Thoughts?”
“When people mispronounce the mispronunciation.”
Here is some advice I have for people who feel targeted by this post and/or trying to feel more comfortable with names
Do not ever tell someone that their name is spelt wrong or that it should be pronounced differently. For example, I often get told that my name has an extra “a” in it. Sorry my name is too complicated for the English language 🤷🏽♀️
If you are meeting someone with a name that you have not heard before, take some time to actually try and pronounce it right. If you’re embarrassed about asking, get over it. People who have had to assimilate their names are embarrassed that they have to westernize or ‘white-wash’ their name for the comfort of others. They will undoubtedly respect you more as long as you try.
It is offensive to “rename” someone or give someone a nickname because their name is hard for you to pronounce. If you want to give someone a nickname, do it with the person’s consent. Names are personal, and you have no right to change someone’s name for your own comfort.
Do you feel attacked? Why? Do you have similar stories? Thoughts? Please feel free to add thoughts and questions in the comment section.