When People Mispronounce My Name

by Pranav Thurgam
Also Featured on KQED

When People Mispronounce My Name

by Pranav Thurgam
Also Featured on KQED
09.16.21
Photo courtesy of Pranav Thurgam
09.16.21

I was only 7 years old when I began to hide my name. 

I was making my first-ever order at the local Starbucks when I was asked to repeat my name. At first, confusion struck. Nevertheless, I clarified each syllable, letter, and even offered pronouncers for the vowels.

I thought it would only happen once, but it kept happening — when making a restaurant reservation, shopping or even having an offhand conversation. Maybe it was malformed pronunciation, maybe an unclear accent or maybe just a bad day — but when the time came, my name was simply confusing for the “conventional” American.

Over time, Pranav became “Pat.” It was never something I considered significant. It was just an issue of convenience, right? In fact, I was told I was more fortunate than others. My name is fairly short, and compared to “Rishabh” or “Jyothi,” it’s phonetically simple. Still, even if I was “luckier” than others, that didn’t change the fact that my name didn’t fit convention.

But a couple months ago, I was ordering coffee with a friend of mine. And when the barista asked for my name, I told them it was “Pat.” You know, just like I normally do. Yet, my friend didn’t understand. Why did I shorten my name for convenience? And if so, is it even worth it?

Before that, I used to believe that Indian names were too esoteric to be understood. It was never something I questioned, or even considered. But, by changing my name, I was only adding to the problem. By avoiding ‘incomprehensibility,’ I was also neglecting any hope to normalize names like mine. Avoidance can only renew institutions, not reform them.

Visiting the same Starbucks eight years later, I no longer shorten my name. Now, I take the extra step to clarify the pronunciation. And that coffee shop I visited as a 7-year-old hasn’t gotten it wrong since.