Why I Refuse to Have a Nickname

Shailaja. 

 

It means ‘daughter of the mountains,’ and is another name for Parvati, the Hindu goddess of power. I always connect the mountains to both the Western Ghats, right outside my birth city of Mumbai, and to the Rocky Mountains outside Denver, the city I consider home. My family is from north India, just a few hours from the Nepali border, and gave me this beautiful south Indian name, unique wherever I go.

 

Shailaja.

 

That’s the supposedly difficult name my parents gave me, the same name chewed up and spit out in some unintelligible form by almost everyone who’s read it on a piece of paper.

 

I never thought it was that hard. After all, if you’re willing to go out of your way to learn fantasy languages and throw hissy fits when someone mispronounces the name of something that could never exist, then surely you could put in minimal effort to say Shailaja, right? Apparently Shay-luh-juh is too hard to grasp. 

 

When I was in sixth grade, I moved back to the United States from two years in Sweden, back to the environment I considered mine. 

 

“Can I call you Shay?” I was only eleven. I didn’t think it through. I said yes. It’d be less awkward than having to explain my name over and over again, so I could say “Just call me Shay!” and not look like the disruptive minority I was scared of being. 

 

I wanted to look completely assimilated. I wanted to look like just one of the other kids. Just another American in the crowd. I was Shay, the one who made it easier for people to deal with her long and unseemly name. 

 

I grew to hate it.

 

The longer I kept the name ‘Shay,’ the more it soured, sitting there as the replacement for the true self that only came out whenever no one knew me. My junior year of high school, I asked all my teachers to call me by my full name. Out of the simple demand that my real name be respected. They kept it up for a week, however, when they learned other students couldn’t shake Shay from their tongues, they went ahead and started calling me that too. 

 

I’m not angry at anyone here. Not their fault it’s hard to shake the name I gave in the first place. I’m the one who was too tired to correct people every single time they called me Shay, the monosyllabic distortion of everything I was, floating in the air like a noxious gas that made me gag and would always hit me with brief pangs of loathing. It should’ve been obvious to me that what I told people was wrong, especially considering how I never bothered putting that down as my name. I always put down Shailaja, the three syllables shining like a beacon in the dark and stormy seas of monotony. 

 

I was always proud whenever substitutes couldn’t say my name. People always pause for at least five seconds before saying my name aloud, and in all honesty, it makes me feel amazing. My name is that unique. My name wields that much power. My name forces people to read and remember it. 

 

And I covered it up with ‘Shay.’

 

Come college, I made sure of one thing: no more. I don’t even bring it up as being related to me. I reject the spectre of conformity that Shay was. I reject the stupid butter jokes. 

 

And most importantly: I reject self-censorship.