The “Abnormality” of South Asian Names

By Manahil Bandukwala

“Oh, at least I have a normal name,” said an American girl as I introduced myself to her two years ago. The name Manahil isn’t a common one, even in Pakistan, but does that make it less of a name?

With mainstream media’s impact and western media’s prominence, english names are common to the ear. Thus, names from elsewhere in the world are alien, and hearing them baffles those who live in the western bubble.

When I moved to Canada a year ago, I often had teachers stumble upon my name. Since my school and neighbourhood had a large immigrant population, the school was comprised of mostly non-white students, and almost everyone’s name was butchered or westernized.

Upon coming to university I noticed a lack of variety in names. After saying my name three times in introductions, I would show the person my student card and let them see the spelling, and then laugh it off to relieve the awkward tension.

It’s not fun to have awkward tension with a person you don’t know. There’s a flurry of apologies from them and reassurances from you. At this point, I expect it. In fact, it’s quite surprising when someone pronounces my name correctly the first time.

I understand that my name is unique, and even Pakistanis mess up the pronunciation. What irks me is when people continue to mispronounce my name without showing any sign of effort in attempting to correct themselves. Worse still is the brush-off statement: “Whatever, same thing.” It’s not the same thing.

A name is reflective of identity—they have meanings for a reason, and people embody those meanings. Not showing concern for a person’s name is equivalent to not showing concern for their entire person.

South-Asian names are butchered or, more often, anglicized. Names like Mashal become Michelle, and Mikail becomes Michael. It may seem as though I am making a mountain out of a molehill, but anglicizing names reinforces white supremacy and the notion that others must change in order to accommodate westerners.

Yes, varying accents do make the pronunciation of names difficult, but it’s still not impossible. The idea it is must be squashed. Ask me politely how to pronounce my name, and let people like me take pride in our identity.

Manahil Bandukwala is in her first year at Carleton University, studying English. An avid writer, she has had two short stories and two poems published in anthologies in Pakistan and Canada. Currently, she is working on a novel-length piece that analyses more deeply racial and religious issues in Pakistan, as well as explores and exposes the progression of the younger generation. Much of her work, both written and visual, involves critiquing racial issues, drawn from her experiences and observations as a Pakistani.


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