In my third week as a graduate student, my advisor walked into the office angry. He pointed at me and proclaimed: “You!”
I thought I was toast. Had I screwed up an experiment? My data was horribly
wrong? I committed academic malpractice? My imposter syndrome was raging in my
mind: “You don’t belong here. You don’t belong here. You don’t belong here.”
Then, after a moment of tension, he discloses his frustration: “I’m pronouncing
your name wrong. I’ve been pronouncing it wrong this whole time.”
My name is Deepak. And though it rings in at a mere two syllables, it has given
most Americans trouble to pronounce.
I picked up on this as early as Kindergarten. I didn’t have a name like “Jimmy
Smith” or “John Jacobs”. To fit in, I needed to let the masses call me whatever
they wanted. In my brief 24 years on this earth, I’ve gone by “Dee pahk”, “Dee
pack”, “Deep ka”, “Deek pa”, and on one occasion, “Dank pa”, which is what I
hope my unborn children will unironically call me someday.
For most of my childhood, I accepted these mispronunciations as an unyielding
reality. I convinced myself that my classmates and teachers would never
pronounce my name correctly. Any attempt to remedy their failings would be
futile. It was my problem, not theirs. So, I leaned all the way in. I started
introducing myself as “Dee pahk” to everyone. I did what so many other first
generation immigrants feel that they must do - ditch their given names and
muddy their culture just to fit in.
“I looked at your Facebook profile. You have a pronunciation of your name
there. And it is not what I have been doing. Now teach me the right version. We
can’t be friends if I don’t know how to pronounce your name correctly.”
My whole life, I felt like shedding my name was the path to fitting in. And
now, of all people, my 47-year-old white man advisor was shaming me because of
it. After a moment of incredulity, I looked at him and said: “It’s Dhee puck.
Like, the hockey puck”. And he got it on the first try.
Now, when I meet new people, I choose “Dhee puck” instead of “Dee pahk”.
Honestly? Most people still don’t get it. That’s okay - a rose by another name
is just as sweet.
Besides, fitting in is overrated anyway.