In a name

I was born in San Francisco. My mother unintentionally induced labor when she ate spicy shrimp curry (which, interestingly enough, is one of my favorite foods) 72 hours after the expected due date.

My mother’s mother was supposed to name me. She grew up in Lahore, and was forced out of the newly created Pakistan in ’47, spending much of her life in Delhi. She identifies as Panjabi – that and ‘mother’ are the only two labels I think she really identifies with. Maybe ‘wife’. I’m not quite sure.

It was important for my grandmother to pick an auspicious name – a name that somehow tied to astrology or my birthdate or my parents. It takes some time to pick a name and oftentimes babies don’t have names for a year or two, until the perfect name is chosen.

My grandparents were in India when I was born, and my mother and I had to be discharged from the hospital – meaning I needed a first name on my birth certificate.

My mother’s nurses were Latina. My parents had no name for me so the nurses wrote “la niña” for “First name”. Baby girl. Eventually my parents decided that Nina was a good name. An Indian name. A name that means “lovely eyes” in North India. They took off the ~ and I was named.

My grandmother chose another name and this became my second name, or middle name. I’m still not sure if this name is on my birth certificate, but I doubt it is. It is, however, on every other form I’ve ever filled out.

I used to be very ashamed of my middle name – I used to think it sounded too Indian. Too hard to pronounce correctly and too easy to mock (I am not putting it in this post for privacy reasons – I assure you, it is a lovely name). It is a name of Sanskrit origin that roughly translated, refers to the line of a stanza of poetry. I only found out how I was named a few years ago – my mother was telling the story to someone else on the phone. I used to be so offended that I never knew this earlier but now I realize it came at the best time – at a time where I could really appreciate it.

My godmother is the only person that calls me by both names. I love her for it. It isn’t that I wish everyone would, but I’m glad she does.

My mother’s aunt once gave me a keychain when I was…maybe 10 years old. It was this prism keychain – this clear prism that was probably made of plastic. It had my first and middle name on it in red script. It got really scratched up because I took it everywhere but never wanted to show it to anyone. The red lettering is gone – I think the keychain is sitting in a drawer in my parents house.

I tell myself that if I ever publish something, after graduate school, I will sign it with my full name. And I will it dedicate it to the women in my family. To my mother and my grandmother and s.k. and our children and children’s children.


2 thoughts on “In a name

  1. i love name stories. reading your entry, im reminded of my own name story.. i have the ‘ christian’ name and there is the middle name, the one everyone calls me at home. otherwise known as the home name and lastly my surname..

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