Fighting the name change

Real cute story on NPR this morning (part of the StoryCorps series) about a man named Ramon Sanchez who recalls how, during the 1950s while he was growing up, all the teachers tried to anglicize his name to Raymond. This got me thinking about all the poor Hardicks and Shitangs and Ashfaqs out there and the struggles they must have faced growing up. Even the Poojas probably had a tough time. Anyways, the punchline of the story is TOTALLY worth it so take a listen.

Since kindergarten he’d been known as Ramon. “Rrrrrramon,” he says with a thick roll of the R.

But when he got to the second grade, his name was Americanized. “Everyone was calling me Raymond.”

“On the playground, in the classroom. Raymond! Hey, Raymond! Hey, Raymond!” he says.

And it wasn’t just his name that got changed.

“If there was a girl named Maria, her name became Mary. Juanita became Jane,” he says. [Link]

93 thoughts on “Fighting the name change

  1. p.s. great_escape @44:

    My family insists on pronouncing Yosemite National Park as “Yashomati National Park.” :)

  2. The fact that so many Chinese have an alternate name conveys low self-esteem.

    that is a rather dumb statement.

    From David Chase to ulysses grant, americans have bent their names for various reasons. Sometimes it’s a matter of progressing in one’s profession and sometimes it’s about creating a brand presence.

  3. 46 · ente said

    For myself, these days, I figure if the North American in question is willing to give “Siobhan” or “Sinead” a pass (which they almost always are), then they can damn well take the time to broaden their horizons regarding other less Anglo names.

    True, although you should probably also broaden your horizons to the point where you can perceive the irony of calling Irish names “Anglo” in the midst of a complaint about cultural sensitivity. Unless you meant that said names are themselves “less Anglo,” although that’s not how I read it…

  4. Speaking of butchering Desi names, I am sure everyone has heard of Parthasarathy becoming “Ports Authority” and then “Subramaniam” transformed to “Sub marinian”. The mispronounced names are harder to say than the originals (at least for me.).

    I remember an incident at my husband’s work. One day he and his group were having a teleconference with a group from Indonesia. One of the Indonesians had the name “Mohammed Butt” and the Goras kept asking the 2 Hindus (my husband was one of them.) how is the name really pronounced. Was it Boot or Byut or what? Then later one of the Goras quipped, “Mohammed is not to be confused with his brother Harry.”

    It really happened and I don’t think I want to get into the Telugu surnames. (I am a Telugu so I get teased all the time about Telugu names by my Kannadaga hubby.)

  5. 14 · CondeKedar said

    One of my distant cousins who recently immigrated named his kid “Archit,” which is either a short form of ‘architect’ or a horribly easy opening for kids to call him “Are-shit.” Oh, how could my cousin be so dumb?

    Perhaps his name can be shortened to Archie.

    I think the kids today (at least at the elementary school level) are a bit more tolerant of different names. My daughter has a very traditional Hindu name and she has never been singled out (at least not yet.) or gotten any grief for being a Hindu with a typical Hindu name etc. Things have really changed for the better since the early and mid 70′s when I was growing up. I think the kids today are definitely more enlightened although there are exceptions I am sure.

  6. Then later one of the Goras quipped, “Mohammed is not to be confused with his brother Harry.”

    Precisely the kind of statement that loses business deals and job offers. Why poke fun at someone’s name just because it’s unfamiliar?

  7. 56 · pingpong said

    Then later one of the Goras quipped, “Mohammed is not to be confused with his brother Harry.”
    Precisely the kind of statement that loses business deals and job offers. Why poke fun at someone’s name just because it’s unfamiliar?

    I don’t understand it either. That is a question that needs to be directed to that Gora dude who made the “joke” and other people who make jokes like that.

    When people poke fun at different races/names/customs, it is usually because they are insecure with their own selves and lives and it makes them feel superior. Throughout elementary, junior high and high school, I was occasionaly ridiculed to my face about having a Hindu name and not being Christian, and so on. I’d get questions like “Aren’t you ever going to have a first communion?” or “Hindus don’t eat cows because they think that might be their ancestors?” and other ignorant statements.

    Although I was not at the conference, I believe that comment was not heard by the Indonesians and the computers/cameras/phones were off. So I don’t think any deal was made or broken on account of that statement. Usually after encounters like these, I wish I could have said, “Cut the racist crap”. In fact, I need to say it to many of my own relatives but that’s another story.

  8. can i just say i <3 YoDad?

    also the name bastardisation goes both ways…i have a v non-indian name indeed and when i finally finally finally got to pick my own name for my confirmation instead of a saint’s name i chose priya (=love, so close enough as all saints really should have been all about it anyway)…

    and then my big mo’ got totally ruined cos with the nz accent it sounded like ‘prayer’ ie the word and not the lovely, gorgeous name (also the name of a cousin i heart) that i had chosen.

    just to let you know that name frustration can go both ways some of us on the other side of the name fence don’t drawl our names out to make them sound fancy/whiter/acceptable…and we feel a li’l left out when other people (spesh some indians) call us out on either making up our names (i haven’t)/not being proud of our culture (i’m not)/ not being a real indian…

    it might have been a lot tougher being a nandini or a nikhil at school…but it is so much cooler than bein’ a plain old natasha when you’re grown up! plus on the bright side you don’t have to deal with talking to someone on the phone and then turning up to a job interview and having people go…wtf?

  9. I know this post comes under humor, so I hate to get so serious about this but…

    A persons name is hugely linked to their identity. A person with a sharply divided identity, lets say, a work identity, a home identity, an artistic identity and a family identity has their human complexity fragmented. Fine, if you decide to compartmentalize yourself. Probably not very healthy but it’s your life. Not cool though,when it’s foisted upon you, taking away ownership of your name, identity and for a lot of immigrants, the feeling of having control over your own destiny. It can be another step towards subjugation and a display of power.

    My girl, Shalaneicey, (her real name) had her name shortened by an employer to just…Neicy. He said that it was too long to have to keep saying over and over all day. Not because his tongue tripped over it. It’s pronounced the same damn way it’s spelled.

    Being “called out of your name” is a phenomena that’s been going on in the Americas since colonialism. Indigenous people were given anglicized names.It’s been happening to black folks here since slavery, beginning with the re-naming process during the ‘New World’ slave trade and then continued unabated, obviously lingering today.

    Maya Angelou writes about it below, in her autobiography, ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’, chapter 16, when she worked in a white woman’s kitchen as a child…

    —-”The very next day she called me by the wrong name. Miss Glory and I were washing up the lunch dishes when Mrs. Cullinan came to the doorway. “Mary?”

    Miss Glory asked “Who?” Mrs. Cullinan, sagging a little, knew and I knew. “I want Mary to go down to Mrs. Randall’s and take her some soup. She’s not been feeling well for a few days.” Miss Glory’s face was a wonder to see.”You mean Margaret, ma’am. Her name’s Margaret.” “That’s too long. She’s Mary from now on. Heat that soup from last night and put it in the china tureen and, Mary, I want to carry it carefully.”

    Every person I knew had a hellish horror of being “called out of his name.” It was a dangerous practice to call a negro anything that could be loosely construed as insulting because of the centuries of their having been called niggers, jigs, dinges, blackbirds, crows, boots and spooks.

    Miss Glory has a fleeting second of feeling sorry for me. Then as she handed me the hot tureen she said, “Don’t mind, don’t pay that no mind. Sticks and stones may break your bones , but words…You know. I been working for her for twenty years.”

    She held the back door open for me. “Twenty year. I wasn’t that much older than you. My name used to be Hallelujah. That’s what Ma named me, but my mistress give me’Glory’ and it stuck. I likes it better too.” I was in the little path that ran behind the houses when Miss Glory shouted, “It’s shorter too.”

    For a few seconds it was a tossup over whether to laugh (imagine being named Hallelujah) or cry (imagine letting some white woman rename you for her own convenience). My anger saved me from either outburst.—-

  10. “It’s more than that – there is no non-Indian language in the world that has any word starting with “Bh”. Go ahead – check your white pages. The only names that start with “Bh” are Indian names (and Pakistani derivates of Indian names like Bhutto etc).

    Bh is unique only to, you know, Bharat.

    M. Nam

    Thats what I used to think, but I have run into some names from Iran that start with Bh. Rare, though.

  11. redr, yes I meant that “Sinead” et al are less Anglo names, hence my use of the phrase “other less Anglo names”. Sorry for any ambiguity.

    And, khoofia, I agree that the culture you grew up with and exposure definitely has an impact as does, in my view, xenophobia–the more likely that a moniker is viewed as belonging to a member of the mainstream (‘Sinead”) the more accomodation and willingness to learn will be demonstrated by other members of the group. The story in question dealt with Anglicization of Mexican/Hispanic/Spanish names in the 1950′s–I doubt that the same trend regarding names of that particular subset exists to the same extent today.

    Again, I think that the U.S./Canada/Britain et al have made a lot of strides in terms of openness to acknowledging, accepting and incorporating new monikers from the less European areas of the planet. I also don’t such countries are by any means unique in their initial resistance to “foreign names” (whether due to laziness, xenophobia or a genuine inability to reproduce or hear the sound in question).

  12. My name is Bhasker. I found out waaaay back when I was at University of Cincinnati in sixties that Americans cannot pronounce BH correctly. They would called me bahasker or basker or such silly name. Part of the problem is there is not one word in English dictionary that starts with Bh. There was hound of Baskerville, but not Bhaskerville. My dad always called me by my nickname “Bako”. So I stopped these yankees butchering my name any further and adopted “Bob” only in verbal conversation. To this day, I am known as Bob except of course among Desis. I still get mails addressed to me as Bob Tripathi. You know what? Americans are lazy. They don’t even seriously try to learn and pronounce foreign name correctly. It’s the ugly American attitude I guess !!

    There is a whole bunch of sounds that are part of Indian languages, but are not part of english. Essentially all aspirated sounds (chha, jha, tha, dha, ddha, bha, gha, ttha) are missing from english. I have some experience TAing introductory hindi for Americans at my univ’s languages dept, and it takes days of practise for them to get these sounds correct. A few initially can’t even hear the difference between unaspirated and aspirated sounds( say ‘b’ and a ‘bh’), and have to be trained for that as well. This is not laziness: I worked with an extremely passionate and motivated bunch. But if you have never heard a sound since childhood, its really hard, and IMvHO too much to ask. I have a tacit agreement with the world, where I don’t change my name, and don’t get bothered no matter how badly anyone mangles my name. Anyway, that’s just my position.

    Americans often take a midpoint between unaspirated and aspirated for most consonants. eg, when they say party, they say something between partty and partthy. This is because they can’t differentiate between the aspirated ‘tth’ and unaspirated ‘tt’. Indians can, and they say ‘tt’. And that is where the inherent funniness of the Indian accent comes from.

  13. I know a couple even here in NL tho who were fed up with mispronounciations of Indian names…and gave their second child a classicly Northern European/Scandinavian name. It’s a pity really, but I do see their point…

  14. The fact that so many Chinese have an alternate name conveys low self-esteem.

    I dont think that anyone can rightly accuse the chinese of having low self-esteem. Quite the contrary actually. Their willingness to adopt anglo first names in the West is their vaunted pragmatism in action.

  15. I purposefully go by a shortened name because I myself got sick and tired of teaches and classmates mispronouncing it, and I still get a little bit irritated by people mispronouncing it. Non-desis see “Nikhil” and say “Nukheeeel”, “Mikhail”, “Neekhile”, “Nickel” (Nickel!? C’mon!) So the policy is “Nikhil” around Desis, and “Nick” around non-Desis.

    I advise desis not to name their children anything that is shortened to “Nick” :)

    The reason being that this word (nick=short for n*gger) is the current racist slur for a colored person in America.

  16. oh, and something else interesting i’ve noticed…i do have a few (east)asian american friends who have anglo first names, along with a “traditional” non-western name, but they choose to go by the non-western name.

  17. 67 · Vyasa said

    I advise desis not to name their children anything that is shortened to “Nick” :) The reason being that this word (nick=short for n*gger) is the current racist slur for a colored person in America.

    No, you’re thinking of “nig.” Nick is a perfectly innocuous name. Although it’s pretty ironic that you’d mix the two up in this context…

  18. The funny thing is that a lot of ABDs don’t pronounce their own names correctly. They’re so used to hearing the anglicized pronunciation while growing up that they don’t care for the ‘real’ pronunciation.

  19. Having a foreign sounding name is actually quite a liability for most of us average types (Indira Nooyi, Vinod Khosla excluded). I think that my lack of success in garnering leadership responsibility had to do with my insistence with using my desi name at work.

    The first 10 minutes of a telecon usually went into spelling out my name. I ended up not being part of the discussion because no one could remember my name among the usual Jims, Jeffs and Lindas.

    5 years ago I decided to go by the name Rob and voila things have never been the same again.

  20. The funny thing is that a lot of ABDs don’t pronounce names correctly.

    I have to admit that my pronunciation is far from perfect. I also have a “Western” first name, although my situation is pretty unusual…

  21. My sister and I have a very Indian first name and a very Latin last name (that is also my family name). My parents tell me that in the mid-late seventies, it was fashionable for some Christians (read- Catholics) to give their kids Indian first names. It was thought it might help them integrate better with their non- Catholic peers. Its also a bit confounding because of my spouse who is from a Latin country in Europe. A lot of people are confused when they meet me, because they incorrectly assume my spouse’s last name is similar to mine (or rather I have changed my last name to my spouse). My parents and my extended family however have an Anglo first name and a Latin last name. I must say however, it has never occured to me to either change my Indian first name or to Anglicize it. It is as pretty as it sounds.

  22. On topic… There was a sketch on Comedy Inc a person named khunthie hernando who insisted on being called by her first name. Everyone obliged eagerly and it had nothing to do with her profession as a lawyer. I think it may have been a scottish name.

  23. 66 · Vyasa said

    The fact that so many Chinese have an alternate name conveys low self-esteem.
    I dont think that anyone can rightly accuse the chinese of having low self-esteem. Quite the contrary actually. Their willingness to adopt anglo first names in the West is their vaunted pragmatism in action.

    Rubbish, changing your name to Steve or Tiffany but sounding like a FOB is stupid. There is more respect for short form or variation of your name than having a totally different name that has no historical or cultural relevance.

  24. How pervasive is this among South Asians? I have yet to encounter a non-Christian Desi with a given Anglo name.

    raises hand I can’t begin to tell you the number of times Punjabis have bastardized my name trying to make sense of it. From “kamli” (why would someone name their child that???) to “kamalee” and everything in between, I have heard almost every Punju-fication of the name “Camille.” And, when I spell it in Gurmukhi (which is easy to do), I’ve been lectured that I am misspelling my own name! Gah!

    Back to difficult names in context: We had a family friend who went by “Mindy” as a nickname — her full name was Manminder. She decided to legally change it and was on the fence all the way up to the day she appeared before the judge, and he called her “man-minder.” That did it for her, and she switched her name permanently.

    I responded with “if you call me bob, ill call you *sshole”.

    Puli, this made me laugh out loud. It’s nice to see you again.

    Anyway, the toughest name to bear, I think, is Sheetal. People always seem to pronounce it “shit-all”.

    Or “shit-heel” which is what I hear more often.

    I think it’s fair to expect people to make an effort to pronounce your name correctly, even if that means they will often fall short. I understand that some sounds will just be impossible for English-only speakers, but it’s really the lack of effort that bothers me.

  25. I fought it hard for the first few months. Would rattle out the phonetic alphabet spelling in a flash…Delta! Echo! Victor! etc etc. Soon I was made Dave, and then my bosses started calling me David. Finally,at a party,I tried to explain to my colleagues the correct pronunciation of my name,and ended up becoming a Devil-Sheep. So now I am a law abiding David by day and a diabolical woolly fence jumper by night. Baaaa!!

  26. My name is Bhasker. I found out waaaay back when I was at University of Cincinnati in sixties

    That means if it was the late-sixities you would have been in school at the same time with the a talented young man named Greg Cook. If not for some bad luck his name would be in the same company as Unitas, Montana, Marino and Favre.

  27. Suki Dillon: Don’t remember any Greg Cook. However, Joe Namath (Broadway Joe)and Vince Lombardi were very popular. Joe Montana,Dan marino and Bret Favre pobably were in Elementary school. In other sports there were Wilt Chamberlain, Lou Alcinder, Cassius Clay, Rod Laver, Pancho Gonzales. Those were the days of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Andy Williams, Simon-Garfunkel, Peter-Paul and Mary, Sinatra. I can go on and on. You get the drift.

  28. Greg Cook was the QB at the University of Cincinnati in the late 60′s. He then was drafted by the Bengals and in 1969 had one of the best rookie years a QB ever had. But he had serious arm injury that year and only played 1 more game after that. One of the coach on the Bengals at the time was the late Bill Walsh who was the coach of Joe Montana and Steve Young. Walsh said that if Cook had not had the serious injury to his throwing arm, that he might have been the best qb of all time. His injury had a major impact on the future of the NFL., Bill Walsh had to come up what became the West Coast Offence because the other QB’s on the Bengals did not have the talent of Cook.

  29. I am one of those who is crazy adamant that you get my name right. to the point that i won’t let go – even when or if i am meeting some fool in a loud club/bar who i know i will never ever encounter again. i am all about spelling it out and re-spelling it and re-spelling it – until the fool has got it straight.

    strange enough – i have been accused by my desi born friends that i am mispronouncing my own name. to which i always counter – well, that is how my parents and family pronounce it and they are from india!

    to which i encounter: rolling eyes and smug knowing looks amongst the dbis.

  30. 4 · delurker said

    2 · id888 said
    What about the counterpoint? South Asians parents in this country who chose Anglo names for their non-Christian offspring because “it will be good for business”. It’s common among Chinese and Korean immigrants, but we’ve resisted in large measure. I kinda liked the Newsweek cover from the March that was titled “When Barry became Barack”.
    How pervasive is this among South Asians? I have yet to encounter a non-Christian Desi with a given Anglo name. There have been quite a few with Anglicized knicknames, though.

    I know tons of Indo-Americans with first names as “Paul”, “Harry”, “Monika”, “Nisha”, “Neena”, and “Bobby”.

    The worst names to be born with are “Harshit”, “Hardik”, “Anush”, and the worst surname is “Butt”.

  31. Yo Dad – if you are in Tamil Nadu, you would be called Baskar or if from Kerala – Baskaran. Both are perfectly acceptable variants of Bhaskar or Bhasker. I have a traditional Anglo first name with an Italian surname – imagine the surprise when people meet me for the first time :) – great source of amusement especially at the Airline counters / restaurants after making online reservations. And for those who complain about Westerners mangling desi names – the reverse works as well. Desis mangle Western name. Brian ends up as Brain. Gary becomes Jerry.

    Note: Tamil does not have ‘BH’ to the best of my knowledge. Ponniyin selvan can correct me.

  32. Most Chinese in Australia some how cant say “Samir” they end up saying “Samil” while I find most Anglo Aussies can manage Samir.

    Some Indian names are pronounced differently in different part of India. The way a Maharashtrian pronounces “Gaurav” is not the same as the way a Marwari does.

  33. Suki Dillon: Now that you have refreshed my memory, yes I remember Greg Cook. He was an undergraduate when I was a Master’s candidate. Melbourne Desi: I am sure folks in Tamilnadu and Kerala can pronounce BH without any effort. Moreover, I am told that Bhaskar or Bhaskaran is usually last name down South, rather than first name, as in my case. I think Sakshi @ 64 has best explanation why it is difficult to say BH for most non-asians. Indeed it is difficult to train the tongue and lips to make a particular sound. Thanks

  34. Melbourne Desi: I am sure folks in Tamilnadu and Kerala can pronounce BH without any effort. Moreover, I am told that Bhaskar or Bhaskaran is usually last name down South, rather than first name, as in my case.

    Hey! I can attest to that. the ‘Bh’ phoneme does not exist in tamizh. For that matter, the ‘h’ sound is itself a challenge. Boston Magesh :-) might attest to that. But if you thought that was bad, try Anbazhagan.

    personally i am not attached to names. If compelled to change names to something more latinesque, i’d rather be a manuel or a yiping or a vlad than a chuck. i cant see myself as a chuck. i’d make a great vlad. imagine the wanton impaling.

  35. Huh, I am Tamil, and one of my aunts is named Bharathi. My mother’s name is Bhagyalakshmi (spelled without the “h” in the US). There’s no trouble pronouncing it at all, because everyone understands the pronounciation is implied rather than explicitly given by a “bh” letter combination in Tamil.

  36. Tamil doesn’t have the sound ‘bh’ in native words, but it has borrowed words (from Sanskrit etc.) with ‘bh’. Of course, these may or may not be given the ‘bh’ pronunciation in Tamil depending on the speaker.

  37. some interesting points made here. what i think is insane, is when Desi’s make up a name…like Jaren, and Taren and Paren, where do they get this from? Son: “dad, what does my name mean?” Dad: “ermmm god knows, it can be pronounced..who cares” Son: “the name Ranjeev can be pronounced, why didnt you call me that?” Dad: “ermm, im off to work , bye son”

  38. I used to be in a rap group and the Dj (he was Irish-Madagascari) would always mispronounce my real name “Mahesh” as “Myhash” and my rap name “Vadapavarotti” as “What A Poverty”. It could be worse. My friends got their names demolished by white folks and other non-desi understanding brown folks alike: Basim and Arun – Boss him and Ar Jew and Praful and Farooq – Pro-Fool and F*ck were the fun times to be had with them. Sucks! I think it’s okay to change your name to avoid confrontation.

  39. I am a nineteen year old girl born and bred in the UK, my name is madhu and I have always mispronounced my name.

    there is no equivalent for the “dh” sound that is in hindi in english, and english people commonly say the “uh” sound in hindi as “ah.”

    English speakers would never know how to pronounce my name properly as it consists of two phonetics which are not similar in our language. As a young teenager in britain, it is simply easier to take the english pronounciation rather than the hindi one. At the end of the day, we are minorities in an english speaking country. I pronounce my name mad-oo, and it makes my life a lot easier.

  40. I agree with you in principle madhu, but white people go out of their way to pronounce French and Spanish names correctly…so why should you not insist, or politely correct?

  41. Hey, I agree, but I think in the UK it is just a given thing that you can westernise your name. I have had two british asian teachers, and they have both called me “mad-oo”. I guess when I was younger, I got used to being called mad-oo and letting them call me it that it seemed inappropriate to suddenly introduce the correct pronounciation. I am 19 now and have always pronounced it incorrectly so I feel it is a bit late to suddenly introduce the proper pronounciation. Most asian people in the UK do seem to have been given names that are easy to pronounce – there are countless “nisha”s and “priya”s, so I guess it is just a given thing that if you have been not given a simple name than you can just westernise it.