What’s in a Name?

For many South Asian Americans, choosing baby names is about balancing both South Asian and American heritage.

Parth Vohra

December 2, 2019

What’s in a Name?
Illustration by Abhilasha Baddha for the Juggernaut

Gaganpreet Kaur-Sharma signs off as “Gia.” Nalini Berry Corcy introduces herself as “Nelanie” — because it rhymes with Melanie. Nafisa Rahman responds to any pronunciation of her name, or unrelated monikers like “Nikki” — she began protesting only recently. And whenever Roshni Patel orders at Starbucks, she begins spelling it right after she says her name: “Roshni, r, o, s,...”

Like all parents, South Asian Americans worry about what to name their kids — names can influence everything in a child's trajectory — from careers, to landing a job, to whom one marries — but South Asian immigrants have the additional stress of figuring out how these names will be pronounced. And unlike Chinese Americans — the largest Asian American group — who are more likely to give their kids both Chinese and English names (partly because pronouncing Chinese names correctly involves knowing as many as four to nine tones), South Asian families often have just one name to express their child’s identity.

The question becomes: stick to your roots (Kamala, Hardik), go full American (Lily, Mindy), or take a hybrid path (Nina, Neil, Anika, Maya, Alisha, Jay) with both South Asian and American roots?