When I was younger, I used to imagine what my name would be if I were “American.”
“Rita” was the closest thing to my own name: Rishika.
I hated “Rita.” Yet, “Rishika” was so difficult for people to pronounce correctly. No one ever mispronounced “Heather” or “Brittany” or “Jenny” or “Jennie” or “Jeni”.
It became a source of anxiety. Whenever we had a substitute teacher, or it was the first day of school, there would be a lingering, awkward pause and I knew my name was next.
I would cringe as I waited to see what would come out of the teacher’s mouth this time. Being a quiet, obedient student, I would just accept whatever they said, - “Rah-Keisha” “Shireeka” (really? It starts with a goddamn “R”!) “Rickshaw” – and I would quickly raise my hand or saying “here” in response to the roll call.
Sometimes, they’d ask if theirs was the correct pronunciation and embarrassed, I would quietly correct them.
Plus, they never had “Rishika” on those little license plates you could buy for your bicycle. Lots of Michaels, Michelles, Stephanie's (but not Stephani with an "I” as my best friend would often commiserate with me)
But I could never come up with anything better than “Rita.”
I thought that I should have a pen name just in case I wanted to write anything honest or above a PG-13 rating. When I was younger, the thought of having uncles, aunties, my parents, etc read my writing made me want to crawl into a dark hole and never come out.
I figured, if I came up with a bland enough pen name, I could just blend into the background and make all my astute observations from the shadows. Indian people be damned!
Now, my brother makes movies about lonely underemployed clowns with shit stained underwear that my father enjoys showing, lovingly, yet, sometimes inappropriately, awkwardly to these very caring aunties and uncles of the community.
So, that door has been opened.
Also, we now have the Internet. I can write in my “secret” blog. That no one really knows about, but the whole world potentially can.
And we’ve got Kal Penn and Mindy Kaling trailblazing the path for future Indian kids that aren’t interested in engineering or medicine.
Even Mindy and Kal had to change their names to something more accessible.
Mindy Kaling went from Vera Chokalingam to “Mindy,” a pet name given to her by her thoughtful parents who wanted her to have a more accessible name.
Kal Penn was Kalpen Modi. He just divided his first name in two. A wise move, as Indians tend to have many syllables in our names. He “Anglacized” his name to prove to his friends that he would get more call backs under this simplified moniker. And he did get more call-backs.
Hopefully this isn’t the start of a trend where Indians feel the need to “Anglicize” in order to function in the world. It would be kind of sad to see such a rich culture watered down so much. But then again, we aren’t living in the names of our parents and grandparents whose names are taken to distinguish which village they came from and who their father was.
Who knows? The future is exciting. Kudos to the Mindy Project. It's a breath of fresh air. Though the side characters could use some work. But she's totes hilar.
And I won’t be parading around as “Rita,” that’s for sure.