Thursday, August 15, 2013

What’s in a Name? Come, Let Me Tell You

My name is Maryann Theresa Taylor, which is a terribly complicated name to have, when you're living in India. (In case you’re curious, this is how I got my name). Mostly nobody ever gets my name right  and I have enormous respect for those who DO pronounce my name right at the first go. The most usual and annoying reaction I get after I tell someone my name, or when someone reads my name on a form is “Hain?” which makes me want to slap them across their faces. I mean come on, let’s be polite here, how about “I’m sorry, but I didn't get that? But no, they must ridicule me!
Here is how people usually behave around my name:

a) Hain?
b) Mispronounce it without any apologies whatsoever.
c) Mispronounce it and THINK they've pronounced it right (you need to see the smug look on the faces of this category )
d) Rush through it so fast so they think I didn't notice they mispronounced it.
e) This category only gives me a blank look.
f) The most annoying category, who ask “But what does your name mean?” At them I want to scream “It doesn't MEAN anything you idiot. Why must a name HAVE any meaning for that matter? It’s a Biblical name okay, now go home, Google it if you're so curious and never ask people such questions!”
g) The most polite and my favourite (though only a handful of them exist), “I’m sorry, but how do you pronounce your name?”  (See, there’s a nicer way of doing these things) 

Since I was little, my name has been twisted and mispronounced and misspelled in all ways imaginable, from Marriyan to Marrayum, to Marry, to Narayan (I received mail on the last name for two years. I’m amazed they got the last name right). I went through a stage I hated my name and hated my parents even more for giving me this long winded name in the first place. I understand they wanted to give me a “Christian” name, but why such a flowery name?

I've gone through many different phases with my name. As a little girl I didn't know better and responded to anything that vaguely sounded like my name. But as I grew older my name, my elaborate, long winded, British sounding name became a source of constant awkwardness and agony. By then my name had been mutilated so terribly and at times beyond recognition, that as a teenager I seriously considered changing my name. I couldn't bear having my name mispronounced anymore and since a classmate of mine had changed her name officially (she had a very, very strange name, I’ll be honest) , it gave me hope that I could change my name too. But then I couldn't think of a better name I could replace mine with and soon, like the many ideas you have as a teenager, this idea was dropped.

I would longingly look at my friends who had regular and simple names like Neha and Pooja and Sonia and wish I had an equally inconspicuous name like theirs. Names which everyone got the first time and names they didn't need to spell out or pronounce for people. Since I was so used to the mispronunciation by then, I started mispronouncing my name as well, just so I didn't cringe when someone else did. It hurt me each time I did it, but I still did. Thankfully, this phase didn't last too long.

But the embarrassment aside, I soon discovered how much fun it was giving people fake names, where I could afford to; like when booking a prepaid auto, or putting my name down for a restaurant reservation or even when filling up a feedback form given to me at the end of the meal by aforementioned restaurant.

By the time I went to college, I shortened my name to Anna. “My name’s Maryann, but you can call me Anna” was how I had begun to introduce myself. Anna was amazing, Anna was shorter, Anna was easier, Anna was difficult to mispronounce and almost everyone got Anna right. Wow, why didn't I think of this earlier! Finally, I began feeling good about my name.

My name also has a tendency to mislead people who've never met me into thinking that I’m not Indian. On my first day at my first job, I was met by sorry looking faces of my male colleagues, who after having read my name on the new joinee list, as they later told me, were under the impression that a “white chick” was coming to work in the Delhi office. Sorry boys, but I’m brown! Even in my current organisation a guy from accounts who’d never met me went to HR inquiring about me saying “Ek humare office mein woh bhi toh hai jo Indian nahin hai”.

My last name also misguides people into believing that I am indeed a tailor. I once went to a bank where the lady after taking my cheque from me excitedly declared “Mujhe aap hi se kaam tha!” the puzzled look on my face was followed by her asking me “Aap simple suit ka kitna charge karte hai?” Two buxom Punjabi ladies looking for a “tailor” in Connaught Place were mistakenly directed to my father (who worked in an airline, but not as a tailor) by the office guard. The ladies dumped some fabric on my father’s desk ordering him “Humara size le lo”. My embarrassed father’s colleagues later ribbed him for not having “seized” the opportunity!

By the time I was older and had began working; I had shaken off the awkwardness surrounding my name and had begun to give people quick little tutorials to help them pronounce my name right. “It’s Mei re ann, three syllables and you need to roll the r”. That not many were amused with my forced attempts to make them enunciate my name right is a story for another day.

It’s not easy having a strange and long name; people are easily confused and make no attempt to hide their impatience. It is also very annoying to keep spelling out your name for people and for them to still get it wrong. But more than anything, having such a long name isn't practical. Each time I’m filling up a form, a little voice inside my head is sarcastically singing “You’re going to run out of space”, which, who am I kidding, I do! But passport forms, those are different; those are kinder than other forms and are thankfully accommodating of long names. This is probably the only thing I’m grateful to the Government of India for, passport forms where I never run out of space while filling up my name.

But there are positives too with a name like mine. A name like this means it’s easy to get a straightforward Twitter handle and e mail ID, without having to add any confusing underscores or numerals in between. Also by the awkward way a voice pronounces my name over the phone, I know it’s someone trying to sell me a credit card and so I hang up immediately.

Despite all that I have gone thought with my name, I have begun to love it, it’s taken me a while, but I have and it's nice for a change when sometimes, someone (very occasionally though) tells me what a pretty name it is. 

P.S: Here is a hilarious link on people with difficult names, shared by Diptakirti, a friend who shares a similar experience with his name as well. 


  1. Well it definetly is a beautiful name and suits u well..Dont think any other name will do justice to ur personality.. totally love reading what u write..