October 4, 2015

DUGGAL | What’s in a Name?

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I went to my last information session today (for an on campus club recruitment session — internship recruitment? Not even close to being over).It was a beautiful moment. I’m pretty sure I almost tripped and fell flat on my face on the steps of Goldwin Smith in my attempt to get away from my last networking session as fast as humanly possible. No more name/major/hometown intros, no more quirky anecdotes about moving halfway across the country and learning what Texas barbeque actually consists of, no more shaking hands with everyone I meet (side note: This last one is probably the worst — someone literally crushed my hand during a social round, and it took every ounce of my self control to keep myself from yelping out in pain).

My most profound observation from my collection of information sessions this semester, however, was not how hazardous to one’s health handshakes can be, but rather a few observations about people and their relationship with their names.

Observation 1: Most people are usually slightly uncomfortable speaking their name out loud themselves. The president of a club could be leading an introduction, and even then, we can sense a slight hesitancy when he or she introduces themselves. This reluctance is exaggerated when his or her name is more unique, maybe more foreign. I have the utmost respect for people who can stand up in front of a crowded room and confidently introduce themselves with no sense of self doubt or uncomfortableness. It doesn’t matter if this person actually knows what they’re doing.  A sophomore with half the resume of the senior next to them could speak his or her introduction more confidently, and I would be inclined to have as much, if not more, respect for their knowledge and confidence (note: There is a difference between confidence and overconfidence, and it’s easiest to spot when you’re speaking about your experiences at an information session).

Observation 2: People apologize for their name too much. It’s comes off almost as embarrassment for the trouble another person must go through to be able to learn what their name is, and how to speak it correctly. If I’m being completely honest, I am probably most guilty of following this trend. “My name is Hebani!” is greeted with pleasantly confused looks and maybe a lean in, as if they didn’t hear me the first time. “Hebani! Like Chobani, but with an ‘h’ at the beginning,” on the other hand, is greeted with smiling faces because everyone knows what Chobani is and everyone either loves Greek yogurt or hates it.

Better yet, you should see me when I order drinks at Starbucks or mozzarella sticks (and only mozzarella sticks) at Louie’s — I usually go with Ashley, because if you think trying to get people to say my name is a struggle, you should watch a barista try to spell it before an 8 a.m., and with seven people in line behind me. Should I be pulling these tricks just to get out of having people learn my name? Definitely not, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the multitude of info sessions I’ve attended thus far, it’s to stop making excuses for my name.

My point here is not unlike the anecdote surrounding Nigerian actress, Uzo Aduba and her mother, that captured the attention of the media a little while ago. When asked why she never considered changing her name when she pursued acting, Uzo responded:

“I went home and asked my mother if I could be called Zoe. I remember she was cooking, and in her Nigerian accent she said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Nobody can pronounce it.’ Without missing a beat, she said, “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.”

And Uzo’s mother wasn’t wrong in the least. My name, your name, anyone’s name is a reflection of the person he or she is. How I choose to present my name reflects how I choose to present myself — and even if my life is a mess because I have a problem set due in an hour, and my calculator is MIA, introducing myself to the people around me confidently means I am confident in the version of myself I am putting forth.

Hebani Duggal is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at hduggal@cornellsun.com. Teach Me How to Duggal appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

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