I love my name, all six letters of it. It means a ton of different things, but my mom mostly emphasized to me that it’s the name of a star in a particular constellation. Throughout elementary school, I often took pride in replacing the dot over the ‘i’ with a tiny star whenever I signed my name. I’d doodle my signature over and over again in my notebooks, reveling in the way that each letter easily flowed into the next. The way my parents say it sounds regal, elegant, refined. Each syllable is rich with color — stitched together, it’s a beautiful moniker that’s mine and mine alone.
It’s also apparently too hard for people to pronounce correctly — or so I thought, for a solid 15 or so years of my life.
As any kid with a unique name understands all too well, there’s the “white” way of pronouncing your name, and then there’s the “brown” way of pronouncing your name. We tend to bury the real one under a hasty “Oh, that’s OK, I respond to either” or something to that effect, especially when the person you’re talking to has that look of near constipation while trying to pronounce it.
It really only takes one mispronunciation to cement a name that lasts for what seems like a lifetime. Given that I had immense social anxiety as a kid, my mom did the grunt work of introducing me to people. Apparently, these three syllables were too difficult for people to wrap their minds around; they’d fumble with the pronunciation several times before my mom would finally latch on to the easiest version and establish that as my name. And so I became “Ruh-vah-tee” as soon as I set foot in my kindergarten classroom.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I started to build personalities around the variations in pronunciation. The girl who went by the white pronunciation was quite different from the girl who heard the brown pronunciation at home. Every so often, someone would call out to me with the brown pronunciation at school. It’d either be jarring, or worse, I’d straight up not even register that someone was trying to get my attention. I’d shy away from introducing myself properly and found solace in a name that seemed to fit comfortably in people’s mouths. In a weird way, it felt like I was less of an outsider whenever I used the white pronunciation.
I eventually grew to like having two concrete versions of my name. Nothing peeved me more than those who would try to pronounce it correctly, then settle on a variation that was neither here nor there. It felt like smudging my name with a bit of dirt. For much of my adolescence, I much preferred that people say it completely wrong instead of partially right.
When I came to college, I thought I’d turn over a new leaf and introduce myself correctly once and for all. But you know those awful icebreakers that you inevitably have to do at the beginning of a new term? While most people mulled over what fruit they most identified with, I’d silently go to war with myself over which pronunciation to use, then regularly kick myself when I’d default to the white version. I’d be afraid to raise my hand, anticipating the expected “What’s your name again?” hurdle that I’d have to pass to answer the question. I didn’t want to have to spend the extra 30 seconds to get my name lodged in the teacher’s brain.
Hindsight, of course, is 20/20. So here’s a little tutorial, once and for all.
“Re-” pronounced like a “ray” of sunshine, “-va” pronounced as “vuh,” and a soft “-ti” to round it off. “Revati.” Give it a go! Bonus points if you can roll the “r,” but no hard feelings if you can’t.
I spent a lot of time wishing that my name was more phonetic, like my sister’s (it’s pretty hard to mess up “Rohini”). My parents stuck an extra ‘a’ at the beginning of my brother’s name, hoping that people would correctly emphasize the first syllable in “Raaghav.” Lo and behold, he’s got his own two versions of his name that he has to juggle, too.
The thing is, these names are phonetic — they’re just unfamiliar to the American vernacular, and that’s what scares people who try and pronounce it for the first time. But I promise you, our names are not that hard to say at all. If you’re nervous about pronouncing it wrong, just ask that person to walk you through it. With a teeny bit of practice, you’ll get it.
To my fellow uniquely-named folks, please don’t feel as if you need to present the “easier” version when you introduce yourself. Take a minute to enunciate every syllable and emphasize the beauty of your name. It’s yours — be unabashedly proud of it.