Can you say my name?


It’s a meager five letters, followed by a considerable eleven, with six occasionally thrown in in between.

Nisha Anjali Rajakrishna.

Since the day I was born, the sixteen letters that make up my first and last name have defined me more than any word or action. Sixteen letters: one defining letter for each year of my existence.

Before even walking into a room, nine times out of ten, a pre-existing notion surrounding every aspect of my life has been built by those around me. Based on the makeup of my name, more often than not, my looks, interests, cuisine, intellect, and humor are aspects that have already been defined simply by the name that appears on the class roster and the connotation that’s associated with my Indian origins.

It’s the reason why, when my family goes abroad, people are so confused when I tell them I’m from America rather than India. It’s the reason why others are surprised when I confess that I prefer writing an emotional essay rather than solving calculus derivatives, like the stereotypical Indian kid. It’s the reason why some are startled to find out that I’m so much more than the name on paper and the stereotypes that accompany it.

Then, there’s the whole situation of how to pronounce it. Guesses start with “Raja…” then trail off into an intangible mess of random letters strewn together. “Rajakeleshshikashka?” I’m asked, as if a word was put together by randomly slamming fingers onto the keyboard. You might think it’s funny, and I might make it seem like I’m unaffected, but, really, I can assure you, it’s painful.

Too often, I’ve been excited about being called up for recognition or an award just to end up abashed from the garbled pronunciation to follow. I can feel it, and I know when it’s coming. As the list alphabetized by last name nears the ‘O’s,’ and ‘P’s,’ there’s a deathly silence before the disarray that I know is to come next.

Laughter ensues, from both those I know and those I don’t, after the pause and the erroneous attempt to pronounce “Rajakrishna.” Any pride I might have held about being recognized dissipates as I laugh along to mask the tinge of humiliation, but deep down, I wonder if it’ll ever end.

It’s a hard name to say. I get it. But time after time, it just gets tiring. And, the laughs that accompany it each and every time don’t help.

While those situations are the truth, perhaps I’m making it seem more dire and frightful than it actually is. The truth is, at times, it can be difficult, but I wouldn’t want my name any other way. Stereotypes and the issue of pronunciation wouldn’t accompany my name if it were different, but neither would the thousands of years of history and culture that are associated with it as well.

Nisha, in the ancient Hindi language of Sanskrit, means night, with connotations of the word “dream.” And my last name refers to King Krishna, one of the most prominent gods of Hinduism. Any unease or tension I associate with my name dissolves when I remind myself of the cultural identity bursting with each component. At the end of the day, I’m proud that whenever my name is said (or attempted to be said), it’s accompanied with deep identity and ancestry.

Regarding something as influential to me as my name, perhaps it took me too long to be complacent with it and everything surrounding it. Who knows how many more times I’ll say, “It’s Nisha. Not Neesha,” or forge a laugh to conceal my slight embarrassment and reddening cheeks? But at this point, there’s nothing that could ever surpass my pride and fulfillment concerning my precious sixteen letters.