By: Ritobrita Mishra
I don’t remember when I first started to hate my name. When I started to hate the syllables, the sounds, and the look of it on paper. I don’t remember when my name became my enemy and when I permitted it to become so. When I allowed the first inherent part of my identity to slowly become something that I despised about myself.
I remember vividly the day, at the tender age of four, when I first asked my mother what my name meant. This was after grasping the concept that a name is how one addresses another person. How it’s our first way of glimpsing one’s identity and individuality. I remember hearing her excitement in telling me my name and the meaning behind it. Ritobrita, a name that means encompassing the truth and being honest with one’s self. A name that holds different meanings at the roots and was given to me with love and adoration. A name that when I first heard was associated with my identity and individuality, stirred a combination of emotions inside me- content, delight, and excitement.
I felt the beauty of my name for a short while before it became something else entirely to me. I felt my name was something that I could proudly showcase as it made me feel stronger and more connected to my heritage and culture. I felt there was a power to my name as it made me feel unique and otherworldly, both feelings that I would soon try to eradicate in the near future. Rather than embracing the core part of my identity in the coming years, I would soon find myself wanting to distance myself as much as possible from the name my mom so loved. The emotions of contentment and elation that were synonymous with hearing my name as well as the strength I found in displaying my name would soon vanish. Slowly becoming a part of me that I vehemently despised.
When school became a part of my daily life, conforming became a lifeline that I clung to. My name was otherworldly and alien. Hearing my fellow peers and teachers try to pronounce the correct phonetic sounds created a barrier for me to be wholly accepted and belong. Thus introducing myself became a nightmare that I had to relive every single time as it was a reminder that I was different and separate. My relationship with the sounds and meaning of what my name meant became lost to me. I abhorred the uniqueness of the sounds and letters and I dismissed how the name was tied to my heritage. The times I was asked for a shorter version of my name or when my friends and teachers would instantly decide to call me a shorter version of my name, essentially manipulating it to suit their needs without my permission, became a daily occurrence. Yet I permitted their arrogance and laziness when it came to my name because I viewed it as acceptance. A chance for me to fit into a mold that I had no business ever conforming to.
Names are powerful as it is the first introduction to one’s sense of self and identity. My yearning to assimilate drove me to allow people to dismiss my name. Allowing people to shorten my name or mispronounce it was a form of oppression I was allowing to inflict on myself that I never considered. Allowing myself to feel that my name itself was an inconvenience to the person I was introducing myself to was detrimental to my own sense of identity. I felt that my name in and of itself was an inconvenience to those who knew me or wanted to know me. Yet the realization that I am not to blame for one’s inability to pronounce all the phonetic sounds associated with my name took me years to understand. The identity crisis that I fell into stemmed from not belonging as I let the fact that my name was “hard to pronounce” cloud my perspective and become the fundamental factor in why I should be ashamed of the name my mom gave me.
In reclaiming my name, my identity took a lot of time but through a revelation of the amount of self depreciation I inflicted on myself, I’ve realized that the stress and anxiety was my own doing and that my name is what makes me who I am. Introducing myself is still a hassle but I don’t allow myself to feel embarrassed and to shy away from making it clear that one needs to pronounce my name fully and cannot shorten it for the sake of convenience. My identity starts with my name and it has taken me years to reclaim it, but embracing it openly has made me feel again the emotions that I first felt in hearing my name- content, delight, and excitement, as well as confidence in my identity that I was never allowed to feel growing up.