Hi! My name is Nancy. Er and Riddhi. Does it help to know that I respond to either?
I have an Indian name that my parents were told would be too hard for white people to say. So now I’m Riddhi in some places and Nancy others.
Normally, I will introduce myself as Nancy. It’s easy to say and simple to remember.
But lately I’ve been feeling like it’s not exactly representative of who I am. It’s not that I don’t like it. I do. But it’s confused people for ages and brought up conversations which bring up even more questions.
There have been countless conversations that go something like this:
I was just talking to my parents and they said “Riddhi, just do XYZ and I said-
“Wait, who’s Riddhi?
Oh, right. Sorry that’s me. It’s my Indian name.
Ohhhh! That makes so much sense. I was wondering about Nancy.
Yeah…my parents gave me that name to make things easier for non-Indian people to say. So Riddhi became Nancy.
Why not just give you an easier to say Indian name?
Because my mom loved Riddhi. And gosh darn it, it was going to stay. Even if it wasn’t official.
Alright, fair. But why Nancy then? Why not just something similar to Riddhi?
It was was a popular cartoon strip character, the wife of a US president, a renowned ice skater. Nancy had renown But it was also not terribly common. How many 20-something-year-old Nancy’s do you know?
If that doesn’t help clarify, I’ll include something along the lines of “It’s kinda like how other Asian folks have an ‘English’ name and a ‘Chinese/Korean/etc’ name.”
Sometimes it also turns into a tangential lesson on how to say Riddhi or Thanki. The pronunciation of my last name is another story for another time.
Or it becomes something like Hasan Minhaj’s experience with his name. I recommend watching the video for the full context.
So most of the world knows me as Nancy.
Except for family and some close friends who know me as Riddhi.
It’s usually only other Indians who feel comfortable enough with the pronounciation to call me Riddhi (though some non-Indians really like the feeling of the name).
Not every language consists of every sound a human is able to create. Gujurati has a “dth” sound not commonly found in other languages. So it may be hard to get your tongue to make it.
When I was in Copenhagen, no matter how much I tried, I could not master the 40+ vowel sounds in the Danish language. (For reference, English has 6.) I was lucky enough to have very gracious classmates and friends who were patient with my butchering of their mother tongue. They did tell me that it’s hard for anyone who is not a native Danish speaker to be able to hear the differences, let alone make the sounds. To be fair, I don’t know how much of it was just to soothe my ego.
I’m more than happy to help you learn how to say my name. Just ask my high school principal who spent a half-hour with me learning how to say my full name for graduation 😀
Just please don’t ask me for nicknames. And for the love of all things spicy, don’t call me “Nan”.
In the same way as the great Uzo Abuda explains her mother’s reaction to asking to be called Zoe because no one could say her name, ““If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.”
At the end of the day, I really do respond to both. But I always wonder what either means to the person I am speaking to and how different their understanding of me would be if I had used the other name.
- Nancy: nan-cee
- Riddhi: ri-dthee
- Thanki: thaan-key