My name translated literally means “Mother of the gods”. Pretty bold, if you ask me. As a kid who hadn’t yet learned about her culture, I thought the name didn’t suit me at all and I wondered why I didn’t have the same superpowers gods had if I had such a name, or why it felt like my name didn’t suit me at all. I mean, I did use to think that if I smiled it would be sunny out and if I was sad the sky would pour— to my dismay I realized that that was controlled by the clouds and not up to me at all.
In Hinduism our names are supposed to be determined by priests, who consult the position of celestial objects in the sky to choose our names. My name was supposed to be Sadhna, which in all honesty I don’t think suits me very much either. A quick google search has revealed Sadhna means “accomplishment” or “devotion”, but my dad being a bit of a rebel, had decided long ago that his daughter would be named Aditi and his son would be named Anirudh (we didn’t even consult what my brother’s astrological name should have been).
Growing up though, the largest problem I faced wasn’t the meaning behind my name (one baby site wrote cow as a translation beside my name, which greatly amused me, though). The largest problem I had with my name, as many people with non-English names might be able to relate to, was its pronunciation. I got ADT, adeeteee, adichi (!? but as a fan of the EDM artist Avicii I didn’t hate it much), chick-a-dee, Adu Caddu (caddu meaning pumpkin and various other words that rhyme with it coming from my parents). Having so many names, nicknames and identities makes me feel a bit like a spy over the years.
As a child I do think that the constant mispronunciation of my name had the inadvertent effect of having me lose my voice a little— I’d be scared to introduce myself and I always had a sort of dread at the start of each school year with the infamous pause teachers would take as they figured out how to say my name (every time to be followed with the awkward apologies that became commonplace). It was awkward for both parties— it’s not like my teachers didn’t want to get my name right, and it's not like I did anything particularly wrong by having a name, but it would just be awkward as small of an interaction as it was.
All that goes to say that I’m not ashamed of my Indian heritage. Growing up I wanted nothing more than an identity that would make it easy to blend in; where at the most fundamental level of introducing oneself it wouldn’t make us feel as though saying my name or learning about me would be a bit of a hurdle. Now I’ve come to not really mind it too much.
Studies show that the languages we grow up with shape the kinds of sounds we are used to hearing; it is very well quite likely that the man who called me Adichi in grade two pronounced the letters of my name in accordance with the sounds he’s used to hearing.
Everyone’s name has a story behind it; whether it's based on a favourite character, season, or just a certain set of letters that sound lovely in an order.
Our names are a part of us and a beautiful part of our heritage, sometimes because of how unique they are we might not realize how special they are.
The letters themselves don’t capture all of our identity either, though.
As a kid I was always searching for another Aditi. This year through online school I think I met three Aditis? Which is much more than I’ve ever met my entire life, and all of us were so different from each other. What connects us and makes us the same is something past the order of letters in our names and where we come from.Whether I go by Adi, Aditi, or go out on a limb and change my name to something else entirely, I still am myself. I hope we can live in a world where we can continue to celebrate all of our beautiful diversities and the stories behind them.