"So Florence" I asked her "Do you have a Chinese name?"
"Yup" she nodded "Its Fen"
"Nice name" I said "Anyone use it?"
"Only all my Chinese friends"
This instantly reminded me of two incidents - both related to having to give up a name.
A year into my first job in Chicago, one of my Chinese colleagues sent us all a rather curious email. It said something along these lines: "I have a name that you all know me by - Huan. But I've decided to take on an American name. Henceforth I shall be called Ed". Needless to say the adjustment took a while.
I've come across a lot of Neels, Rags' and Kris' to treat this bit of cultural adjustment as trivial. If I had an eight syllable name, it would give me pause just about anywhere leave alone the US where people verbally joust with names like they were sinful leprechauns. In the Call Center era, this phenomenon reached new heights as names were assumed with reckless abandon (Hi, I'm Parvati, but you can call me Jen)
You'd think with a simple name like Aspi, I would be impervious to this problem. Not so. Aspi is a terribly difficult name to get right based on how its spelled in English. So everyone ends up pronouncing it like I piddle with the wrong end (think about it).
I'm also guilty of trying to vault over the name sometimes - although only with those that don't matter. Earlier, I would routinely put my name down as Bruce Lee while waiting for a lunch table at a restaurant. This would have the following advantages: (1) I didn't have to spell out my name each time and endure the agony of someone mangling it ten minutes later (2) You'll be amazed how much fun it is to hear "Bruce Lee, your table is ready" and (3) I was always amused by first the confusion and then the guilt that crossed the Maître de's face when I showed up.
Often enough one of my best friends Jim would tease me to give that name up. And I would tell him it wasn't the name but the commitment to diversity that mattered. "Even simple names can be mispronounced" I'd argue.
And I kid you not, right on cue Huan would usually walk in and say "Jeem!" (followed by some variation of "Your code sucks and is crashing again!") Yes, single syllable American names can suffer the same fate.
So here is the second story: my middle name - which happens to be my father's name - is Jimmy. Dad always kept this name for various reasons - his real one being Jamshed. He kind of, sort of, got that name partly because he grew up in Daman among some Portuguese-speaking people and partly because Parsis often like to pretend they are superior Anglos.
When I first came to the US, as is our family tradition, I used all three names: first, middle and last. And wouldn't you know it: everyone started calling me Jimmy. This annoyed me no end. At one point even my bank sent me a letter that started "Dear Jimmy, We regret to inform you [that you are almost broke]..."
After much reflection I simply stopped using Jimmy. It broke Dad's heart as it did mine.
But sometimes a name is so important you just have to let it go.
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