Saturday, July 14, 2007

Baby Naming

My only experience with baby naming is that of naming J. Her formal name is a mouthful even by desi standards and everyone state side warned me of dire consequences in the school yard with a name like that. It would get mutilated horribly and beyond redemption. It would a life-long cross for the child to bear. She would hate me when she grew up for saddling her with something like that. I should brace myself to seeing my child turn into an out of control teen.

Desis recommended that I tone it down to be more mainstream and not go near anything that was more than two syllables long. Meaningfulness was not of consequence, ease of pronunciation was of essence. The locals did not have any input on the kind of name I should pick but they knew that the one I had set my heart one was a disaster waiting to happen. I would regret my choice at leisure.I ignored public opinion and wisdom and had it my way.

Until recently when someone asked J her name, she refused to tell it and expected me to do so instead and then teach them how to pronounce it. In the best case, she would mumble it in an inaudible undertone. The name had indeed become as everyone had promised a source of much pain and embarrassment for her. It was becoming an obstacle in the way of normal social interaction and her ability to build a friend circle. J is extremely outgoing and loves people so this is much harder for her than it would be for a more introverted kid.

Thanks to my efforts with friends, teachers and kids, everyone who has known her for some length of time pronounces her name correctly. I was willing to help J along until she was old and strong enough to fend for herself. She is close to six now and I knew it was time to stop being her crutch. I decided that she would not be well served by a name that she was not able to identify with or felt a sense of pride in. One evening a few weeks ago I sat her down and we had a little conversation.

Me : "Why do you get a mouse's voice when someone asks you your name ?"

J : "No one understands my name and they don't know how to tell it"

Me : "Do you know the significance of your name ?"

J : "Yes"

Me : "Are you proud of your name and its meaning ?"

J : "Yes"

Me : "Do you want Mama to change your name to something that everyone can pronounce easily ?"

She gives this some thought and says "No"

Me : "Do you like your name enough to keep it for the rest of your life ?"

J : "Yes"

Me : "Then you will need to show more confidence in it. Your name has a very special meaning for me but it is also about your Indian identity. You were born here but your roots belong in India. You can either decide to hold on to the Indian part of you or let it go. What you decide to do about your name will decide that. It is your choice because it is your name. If you don't like what you have now would be the time to change it and Mama is willing to do it"

I am quite sure J did not understand all of what I was saying but enough to get my drift.

J: "I want to be both American and Indian. I don't want you to take away my name"

Me : "I'll give you two more chances. If you don't speak up confidently and say your name when people ask you, I will change it to something every recognizes, easy to pronounce and ordinary. You will no longer be special because you have decided that is not what you want"

The change was almost immediate. A random guy at the grocery store asked her what her name was a couple of days after this conversation. J surprised me pleasantly by telling him her name clearly. I hope things get better from here and her name is no longer her cross.

I used to think that my personal circumstances made naming J such an ordeal but it turns out that the problem is fairly widespread though the reasons are quite different from mine.


ggop said...

Jhumpa Lahiri was onto something in the whole name issue in The Namesake.

I can empathize with J. Some days I don't bother to correct the mispronunciation of my name (three syllables) much to my husband's irritation :-)

Anonymous said...

J is a perfect name like yours HC.
Just let American's learn to say J.
In CA J is said as Ose not Jose. eg: San Jose, CA.
Ofcourse we dont pronounce Chinese names correctly and then Indianise the chen-accent to some changs etc.
Cool off with J. She will be fine in her teen, dont be hard to her. Ppl spell Puja nm wrong and say it wrong and I just ignore, dont take as persnl.
You r a smart parent, teach ur kid to say as she want her to say, no change just becoz its twisting of tongues.
Calcutta is Kolkatta and so on, leave the AngloEnglishinshhhh...say it J, everyone likes J HC.

Puja Sadani
Los Angeles, CA.

Heartcrossings said...

ggop - I am sure J will be able to relate to Gogol. Thankfully her name does not sound in the least fit funny :)

Puja - You make a great point about accents. Unless you are from the same place and culture you do not get the pronounciation exactly right. All I want for J is to feel comfortable in her skin - name and all.