“Sana” means “praise.”
My name, Sana, correctly pronounced as “Suh-nah,” is often said by others with an anglicized pronunciation of “Sah-nah.” Though the difference may seem small, it carries a significant impact. I was named “Sana” because it means “praise” in Urdu, an Indian language. Also, though I wasn’t named Sana for these additional meanings, it also translates to “radiance” in Arabic” and “healthy” in Spanish (I lucked out, right?). My name is an important part of my Indian-American identity and helps me feel more connected to my Indian culture as a first-generation American.
I wanted to “fit in.”
In elementary school I vividly remember learning that my name was said differently by my American classmates and teachers than it was by my Indian family members and friends. It didn’t bother me at the time, but rather taught me that it was easier to introduce myself with the incorrect pronunciation than coach people through how to say it correctly. Also, as I was an incredibly shy child, it felt easier to accept the wrong pronunciation of my name rather than correct yet another substitute teacher who butchered it.
“Okay, I’m gonna say this wrong…”
Already feeling out of place as often the only Indian-American kid in my classes, with my “ethnic” lunches opposed to “lunchables” (ha, remember those?), drawing attention to my “un-American” sounding name was something I avoided. Accepting the Americanized pronunciation of my name helped me feel more like I fit in — helped me feel more American.
I accepted my “Americanized” name.
To this day, I introduce myself with the anglicized pronunciation of “Sah-na” without thinking about it. I’ve come to associate the proper pronunciation of my name with how I’m referred to by my family, relatives, and others from the South Asian community for whom the pronunciation of my name comes naturally. My husband, though he’s not Indian, has always encouraged me to say my name correctly. It’s funny that doing so feels strange since I’ve gone my whole life feeling like my name was too difficult for the White American tongue pronounce!
For those whom I’ve introduced myself to as “Sah-nah,” please know that I don’t fault you at all. Learning to take pride in the native pronunciation of my name, and get comfortable with correcting people, is something I’m embracing. I appreciate your willingness to respect and support me in that.
I am embracing that my name, “Sana,” is “American” simply because I am American. It is Indian-American and I take pride in the rich meaning and culture behind it.
My parents changed their names.
The experience of adjusting my name to suit the American tongue did not begin with me. After my parents immigrated to the United States from India in 1994, they soon realized that their names were difficult for most Americans to pronounce. My mother, named “Smriti,” meaning “remembrance” in Sanskrit, adopted her nickname of “Simmi” as her primary name. Similarly, my father, named Sundar,” meaning “beauty” in Hindi, changed the spelling of his name to “Sunder” to minimize its mispronunciation. Both of my parents have always been patient and forgiving with those who butcher their names. Assimilating as immigrants in America asked many things of them, one of which was to alter their names in order to adjust more easily. Though they lost the native spellings and pronunciations of their names in the United States, they’ve also come to accept various “versions” of their names while celebrating the duality of their Indian-American culture.
Be curious. Be respectful. Be humble.
If you’re unsure of how to say someone’s name, be respectful, curious, and humble in asking them how to pronounce it and, more generally, ask them what they’d like to be called. Whether it’s the native or anglicized version of their name — or a different name altogether — respect the names that people most identify with. Don’t expect them to alter their names just for your convenience.
Have you ever experienced discomfort with others not being able to say your name? Or, have you been on the other side of it with feeling uncomfortable saying someone’s name? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.