Over the years, I have had the opportunity to witness the ‘blundering’ of my name. My parents chose the name “Kaushik” for me. I grew up with this name and because I respond to my name when it is called, the way my name is said has an impact on me. I often used to feel ashamed, embarrassed that my name was a burden. This pushed me to temporarily ‘shift’ away from my language and my culture.
But over the years I have realised my name is a powerful link to my identity as it holds ancestral and historical significance. “Kaushik” means ‘friend of the universe’. My name has a story but unfortunately I am often forced to adapt the name to sound more westernised. The transition, however, is often painful and forces me to take on names that are not my own.
As I’ve grown older, the way people approach my name is different. I was only 13 years old when I moved, alone, to the United States from Nigeria. It was from here, after enrolling at a high school, I was faced with the overwhelming and unfair decision over whether I would be called “Kaushik” or mould it into something more American. Why? So that my friends and teachers would not struggle over the pronunciation. I realised I had no choice but to take up a name one of my teachers gave me which they thought suited me. My new name was “Cash-ik”.
When I moved to University in South Carolina, my tennis coach called me “Clarke” after Clarke Kent from Superman. Don’t ask me how he got Clarke from Kaushik! In my fraternity, I was called “Cashmoney”. Rather than learn how to pronounce my name (or potentially mispronounce it), my fraternity brothers gave me a nickname based on a famous hip-hop record label. I found, as a teenager, I was getting increasingly irritated with those who wouldn’t even bother to try to pronounce my name or ask me to repeat myself.
I vividly remember Day 1 of a new job; I was referred to two different names in one meeting: “Kushack” and “Kasheek”. To be fair, I was slow to correct people because of some apprehension or stigma I believed sat beneath my name.
Having now worked in a client-facing role for many years, I find myself having to repeat my name several times (often because people want to say it right or because I hate the mispronunciation) and congratulating those who managed to get it right on the first try (these people were often just as excited as I was!).
A conscious decision
I have also come across names that were new to me and really hard to pronounce. I’ve made a point to always call people by their proper names, and if I am unclear on the pronunciation, I ask them how to say it so that I don’t say it incorrectly. It is very easy to find a quick solution to shorten the name, change the name or just call out the initials. It takes a special person with high emotional intelligence to make an effort to learn the correct pronunciation. A person’s name is so important and when you say it properly, you afford that person the dignity they rightfully deserve; to have their name, something of great meaning, said in a way that honours them.
The world is a melting pot of diverse communities. I often forget that I am the living generation who needs to carry my ethnicity forward to various locations in this world. Changing my name to suit another person’s articulation challenges is an obstacle to the development of my ethnic identity.
I notice today immigrant parents giving children western names or globally accepted names for the ease of pronunciation. However, little do we realise that we are creating a generation of lost ethnicity and culture.
What’s my recommendation?
Every relationship is built on credibility. So make the effort; it shows you care. Be meticulous about getting people’s names right, both the pronunciation and the spelling. It is not only a sign of respect, but it is also smart, and it can save you a lot of headaches down the line. Indeed, people whose names are often mangled by the lazy or the inattentive will respect you all the more when you make the effort to get them right. By doing so, you also will show yourself to be someone who pays close attention to detail.
For those of you who still struggle to pronounce my name, I always refer to David Kochie from the Channel 7 TV show ‘Sunrise’. Remember Kochie with a ‘k’ at the end of it. This equals “Kaushik”.