An Indian Girl by Any Other Name

03 Aug

by Avani Nadkarni.

A person’s first name is a huge part of their identity. As a woman, it’s the one part of your identity that stays constant, whether you get married or not.

Parents think long and hard about what their child’s first name should be, because it’s the first gift they can give their baby. They brainstorm ideas, solicit advice, consult the countless baby name books and Web sites available.

In parts of India, a baby isn’t even named until an official “naming ceremony,” conducted several days after the baby’s birth. When Indian immigrants have children in the U.S., however, they must name their child before they leave the hospital.

My mother gave me my name—Avani—because she thought it was pretty. Plus, it doesn’t rhyme with anything. She’d learned her lesson from naming my older sister Arti, who got teased with Arti Farty endlessly throughout junior high.

When I was in elementary school, I desperately wanted a “normal” name, particularly Ashley. When I finally have a daughter, I’d think, I’m naming her Ashley. There were about four Ashleys in any given grade when I was in elementary schools. A lot of Jennifers and Jessicas, too. People could pronounce Ashley. They wouldn’t mess it up like they did my name, saying “A-vah-nee” if they saw it spelled out or mistaking it for “Ebony” if they heard it.

As I grew up, however, I began to realize the advantages of my name, which means “Mother Earth” in Sanskrit. For one thing, it’s a definite conversation starter.
“What a pretty name!” people exclaim. “Where is it from?”

As a newspaper reporter, it helps put people at ease from the get-go, as they make small talk about their experiences with India, or names, or anything related. By the time the name conversation is over, the person is at ease and ready to chat.

And now, in my mid-20s, I’ve learned to really embrace my name. And if I ever have a daughter, she won’t be called Ashley, although I still think it’s a beautiful name. She’ll have a strong name from the colorful land where her grandparents are from.


Posted by on August 3, 2009 in Social Life


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2 responses to “An Indian Girl by Any Other Name

  1. ahyoung

    August 5, 2009 at 9:54 am

    What a wonderful and powerful statement at the end.

  2. Reg Kuen

    October 6, 2009 at 4:29 am

    Hi Avani
    I am of Indian descent, been raised in South Africa, living in the UK, so I understand the quandery you find yourself in at times. I have been to India a number of times and have fallen in love with it. The contrasts, the landscape, the openness, all adds to its beauty. Your closing statement cements a truth in my heart….we cannot deny who we are and where our roots lie.


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