What’s in a name?
“Hey, I’m Kristen, what’s your name?”
“Hi! I’m N…”
And there it was, in all its shining glory: my first tinge of hesitation. Should I say my name like I’ve said it for 18 years? The way my basketball coach would yell it every time I missed a shot or the way every member of my 800-person graduating class said it with a Texan twang? Or should I try something new…or in this case true? Should I say my name like my dad says it, slightly accented but always with pride, when he introduces me to one of his business partners?
Of course, in my moments of pondering, the only sound I had made by this point was an “N.” My eyes became securely locked on the ceiling as if it held the answer to my somewhat ridiculous qualms. To innocent bystanders of my day-to-day idiosyncrasies (in this case, the first girl I spoke with at rush), I just looked like I had been asked for the answer to world peace, not my own name.
“Haha, I’m sorry, didn’t know it was that hard of a question…”
“It’s Nandita! Sorry, sorry, it’s Nandita. Nice to meet you.”
There, I tried it—saying my name correctly for once. Doing the Indian thing. Doing the thing I had tried and failed to do on numerous occasions. But this was Duke. We’re all smart. We’re all culture...
“…N-what? Sorry, you’re going to have to repeat that, I’m bad with names.”
And then I instantly remembered why saying my name phonetically “correctly” was such a bother. “N-un-dee-tha-aa.” Of course it was going to be hard for her to understand. It was seven syllables of Indian craziness pouring out of my mouth. How could I expect this innocent bystander to make any sense of it?
And that’s how I started every conversation during my freshmen year rush.
As is the beauty of rush, this was the perfect opportunity for me to experiment. I developed what seemed like a million different pronunciations of my name and tested them on what seemed like a million different people.
I was in the middle of introducing myself as “Ny-an-deet-uh” to some boy when the sound of another “odd” name grabbed my attention from a few feet away.
“Hi, I’m Muh-doo.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. I looked up to see one my best friends introducing herself to a group of people with a botched version of her own name. The soft “dha” sound so prevalent in Hindi was absent in her rendition, and it all but crucified her name.
Out of earshot, it was easy to make fun of each other for the obvious mispronunciations. But, ultimately, we were both just trying to get past initial introductions as fast as possible to start a meaningful conversation.
“So…Ny-an-deet-uh?” she asked with a slight smirk.
“Muh-doo?” I questioned back.
It took but a few seconds for us to laugh at how ridiculous we sounded. While we were both Indians, always stuck saying our names the “white” way, this wasn’t what we bonded over. What always clicked was our mutual apathy. It didn’t matter whether our new friends said our names with seven drawn-out syllables or three botched ones. What really mattered didn’t happen until after the name exchange. Would these new people ever repeat my name when calling out to me on the Quad, waking me up from a nap or singing me happy birthday?
Rush was the first time since O-week that I had to define myself to an entirely new group of people. And it was also the first time I realized that I honestly didn’t care how people said my name. As soon as I found myself laughing mid-conversation instead of worrying about what to say next, I knew that whether you call me Deeta, Bandits, Nanditaji, Ditties, Derta, DeetaRex or just Nandita, it doesn’t change me. I still have two left feet on the dance floor, cackle like a hyena at jokes, have more '90s Bollywood music than ‘N Sync on my iPod, think Texas is the best state in the country and consider my friends to be like my family.
When I stopped stressing about my puzzling name, and instead decided to attend multiple awkward open houses, “dance” at an open-mic night in front of strangers and attempt to roller-skate in costume, I ultimately ended up with a new place to call home. These new people don’t just know my name. They know me.
Nandita Singh is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs every other Tuesday.