by Pranav Thurgam
I was only 7 when I began to hide my name.
I was making my first-ever order at the local Starbucks… when I was asked to repeat my name. At first, confusion struck. Nevertheless, I clarified each syllable, letter, and even added little monikers to help define the vowels.
Yet, what I perceived as a sole occurrence… soon repeated. When trying a hand at making a restaurant reservation, retail shopping, or even an offhand conversation, the same issue lurked. Maybe it was malformed pronunciation, maybe an unclear accent, or maybe just a bad day – but when the time came, my name was simply confusing for the ‘conventional’ American.
Over time, I came to ‘cap’ my name into Westernized tags. Pranav became “Pat”. It morphed into a habitual reflex; something ‘normal’ for the naive me. Just an issue of convenience, why fuss over such a small detail? In fact, I was more fortunate than others, I was told. My name is fairly short. Compared to “Rishabh” or “Aashi”, it’s phonetically simple. Even then, however, ‘capping’ appeared inevitable.
I never stopped to consider whether ‘capping’ my name had adverse consequences. In a simple transaction between a barista and client, why make things any more difficult for the person on the other side? Yet, visiting the same Starbucks 8 years later, I no longer cap my name. And here’s why:
I used to believe that Indian names were too esoteric to be understood. But by erasing my name, I was contributing to that unfair stigma. By avoiding ‘incomprehensibility’, I was also neglecting any hope of normalization. Avoidance can only renew institutions, not reform them.
Now, I take the extra step to clarify the pronunciation of my name. And that very same Starbucks I visited as a 7-year-old hasn’t gotten it wrong since.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / HeinzTeh