He inhaled sharply as he felt the cold tip of the blade puncture through his skin just below his rib bone. A split second later, all sanity left his mind as the searing pain flowed over his entire body in agonizing waves.
My parents chose a beautiful, Sanskrit name for me. I loved the way it sounded as a small child. I loved that the meaning it carried symbolized clouds and purity. It connected me to rain, to storms, and nature. I was proud of those seven letters.
As I reached elementary school, my name was no longer a source of pride. When I introduced myself, children laughed at my name and mocked it, and I was filled with confusion and embarrassment. I could no longer recognize myself. I began to feel like someone else; someone different; someone that wasn’t the rain.
I would dread the mornings when my teachers would do roll call. Snickers. Whispers. As I got older, new teachers came into my life. “That’s too hard to say,” they would tell me. “Can I call you something else?” What else? I was only the rain.
When I was out in public with my mother, people would struggle to say her name. “What? Can you say that again?” “Oh, I can’t make that sound–I’ll call you this instead.” My mother never backed down. “You can say it, if you try.” “Practice.” She would stand there until her name was said correctly. My mother, a goddess, her name–the wife of Shiva.
As an adolescent, this seemed like work, a struggle, a burden on others. Why not just change my name? Why not just be someone else? Within my beautiful seven letters sat another name. A name that was not mine, a name that carried another meaning. A name that the world could so easily say. How convenient. If I just drop this last letter, I won’t be a burden.
So, the last letter in my name disappeared. I lost it for years. I lost it in my adolescence and into my adulthood. Not too long ago, I shared this story with my Kindergarteners. They cried, some were angry, most were confused. “Why would anyone make fun of your name? It’s beautiful.” “What they did was not kind.” I agreed. I used that space to teach them to be proud of their names.
The next day, the children walked in to see my “morning message” written on the easel with my name signed below a little heart. Confusion, anger, questions. “Why did you do that,” one child exclaimed. “Do what?” I asked. “Why did you not write your REAL name?” At that moment, I was thrown into memories from my childhood. Memories that I had tried to wash away with denial in adulthood. The children stared, demanding my response. What was the answer? Fear, embarrassment, shame? One minute of silence and a lifetime of pain. “You should be proud of your name,” a child said. And just like that, it started to rain–I was drenched in comfort, shelter, and freedom. A group of five and six years olds! I was finally liberated by a group of five and six year olds.
It took me almost twenty years to realize that I did not just lose a letter all these years–I lost a part of who I was. I think of my mother and how to this day she never gives in to someone dismissing her name. Though my name was celebrated at home, I was put down and made to feel embarrassed by my peers and those that were supposed to be protecting me at school. I think of all the children who are experiencing shame in this moment because someone is not taking the time to see them for who they really are. I think of the power behind a young child’s voice when they are taught to love and embrace those who are different from them.
I have become so comfortable with my new six letter name that it is a part of my identity. But I am proud of my REAL name, too, and this story.
I am now a mama. My daughter’s name means moon. I will forever tell her to be proud of her name and that she was and will always be a gift from the stars.
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.
You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!
We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.