What’s in a name?

My name is Radha – pronounced Rah-tha – with the emphasis on the second syllable.  On a day, 32 years ago, my parents like so many, expertly chose this name for me.  In doing so, they also gave me all of the meaning, identity, culture and love that came with it.  I am named after a Goddess.  ‘’Radha’’ – most beloved of Lord Krishna (who had many admirers) in Hinduism. So although here in the West, ladies love Cool J, thousands of years ago, in the land of spice – all the ladies loved Lord Krishna – and he only had eyes for one.   In the bhakti (devotional), Radha, is sometimes interpreted as symbolizing the human soul.  As you can see, a name so powerful was given to me in the first moments of my existence.

But somewhere along the line, I became someone else.  I became Raw-da.  I can’t tell you exactly when it happened but I felt pressure to make my name fit the mouths of those around me.  It might have been in elementary school when I watched teachers fumble over the ‘’dh’’ combination of letters, or later in life when I noticed other Indians give them self English names.  Maybe it was when I was encouraged by professors to change my name on my resume in the hopes of securing more interviews – but somewhere along the line I started anglicizing my own name to make those around me more comfortable.     

According to research by Katherine DeCelles and colleagues from Harvard Business School, minority job applicants are “whitening” their resumes by deleting references to their race with the hope of boosting their shot at jobs, and research shows the strategy is paying off.  In fact, companies are more than twice as likely to call minority applicants for interviews if they submit whitened resumes than candidates who reveal their race—and this discriminatory practice is just as strong for businesses that claim to value diversity as those that don’t.  So the pressure was real.  The world was telling me, from a very young age, that my name, my identity, was not good enough.  That I needed to change the way my mouth so expertly curved around the letters of my name in order to be more palatable to the dominate culture.  For the longest time, each time I said it, it meant nothing.  It was just the way it was, until recently.  It got to a point that each time I stretched out the letter, it felt wrong – it felt like I was hiding my truth behind a shadow. 

One unique and profound element each and every one of us has in common is the name we are given.  Weather we were given that name due to historical lineage, the significant meaning that name represents or the creativity and desire for uniqueness of our parents – our names, beyond their objective purpose, encompasses what and who each of us are.  It is the center of all of our transactions and very heart of our existence.  In any case, the name a person bears through life is something we carry, and it is sometimes the only thing others have to judge you by before they meet you.  This is why diversity and inclusion matters – why representation matters.  With homogenous work places the lens required to see the importance of pronouncing ones name correctly is lost.  And I’m not saying it will always be easy – but trying, and trying again is what is important and required.   

This year, I decided to reclaim my name.  I decided I would no longer introduce myself as Raw-da – that I would at a bare minimum – even if nobody else could – pronounce my name correctly.  In doing so, it has caused discomfort in my office, announcements being made that I no longer wish to be called by the name I always responded to and many conversation with colleagues – but: 

My name is Radha – pronounced Ra-tha – with the emphasis on the second syllable. I am named after a Goddess and there is power in that.