My full first name is Atul (pronounced Uh-tool with no accent on any syllable.) It’s not a nickname. It’s not shortened. It’s Indian and I’m proud of it. It’s only 4 letters and 2 syllables yet many people have a problem with it. They often see it or hear, don’t recognize it and then proceed to guess at what it should be (as if reading 4 letters is difficult.) Even worse, they figure out that it sounds like “a tool,” and get that smirk and snicker because they think it’s funny. They’re thinking “you’re a tool.” Turns out I’m not. Do they think they’re going to make me like them more by trying to make fun of my name? What people don’t realize is that even with English-acceptable names, there are many that sound like other words. We have just learned to accept them without thinking twice. To show the ridiculousness of people making fun of my name and other foreign ones, I have listed some common names that sound like other words and some equally asinine comments that could be used in response to their names…
- Matt You must enjoy getting stepped on when people walk in the door.
- John You’re named after a toilet
- Sandy Were you at the beach lately?
- Chuck What do you throw, rocks
- Dick You are a jerk aren’t you?
- Randy Don’t get fresh with me
- Bob Do you bob in the water like a buoy?
- Doug What have you dug up?
- Frank Are you telling me your honest opinion?
- Mary Marry me.
- Angel Touched by one lately?
- Bill Are you a $100 dollar bill? Or a one dollar bill?
- Sue Please don’t sue me. I don’t have any money and didn’t do anything wrong.
- Victor Do you always win?
- Will You like to write wills for people?
- Mark So is that like a birthmark or a pen mark?
- Phil Do you fill gas?
- Rich Do you have a lot of money?
- Don You now wear gay apparel?
- Cam Are you part of an engine?
- Guy Which guy are you?
- Lisa Are you going to lease a car instead of buying one?
- Nick You must have a mark from something sharp nicking you.
- Paul Are you going to be a pall-bearer?
- Jack You must be good at lifting up cars.
- Harry Do you shave all your body hair?
- Pat You must work security and pat people down.
- Chris Do you like to criss-cross a lot?
- Abby Are you on that show Downton Abbey?
- Dawn Is that your favorite time of day?
- Carol Do you sing during Christmas?
- Terry I know what kind of towels you use.
So, as you can see, my name is not alone. Just because it’s not European in its origins doesn’t mean it needs to be changed to accommodate ignorant people. My name is not O’Toole either. I’m not Irish. People don’t realize that my first name is quite common. Just Google it in conjunction with my last name and you’ll see that there are hundreds of them in the U.S.A. If something is weird because it’s unusual, then my name is by definition not weird. In fact, I’ve run into other people in the U.S. who have met other Atul’s Had I and the other Atul’s used a nickname, these people who met us would not have realized the commonality of the name.I sympathize with people when they can’t pronounce a word from another language properly. When we grow up speaking a language, it’s hard to speak sounds that your native language doesn’t have. In my case, it’s hard for people who are only familiar with English to not accent a syllable in every word. Not accenting either syllable in my name is what is done to pronounce it properly but 95% of people I meet can’t do it. When they try, they say my name like ah-tool instead of uh-tool and I find that irritating so I just tell them to say Atul like “a tool.”
My name could have been harder to deal with either for their spelling or their apparent pronounciation. I know people named Shital, Hardik, Dixit, Ashfaq. They must have a rougher time with their names. But many of them weren’t born here or their parents didn’t expect them to live in an English-speaking country so they didn’t consider the impact of their kid’s given name (that is if the parents knew English.)
In then end, all our names are unique to one or a few cultures and they should be respected and perceived as being from another culture not as a word in another language. It’s juvenile and I almost can’t believe it still happens. One could consider it a subtle, hidden form of prejudice. Make the other person feel uncomfortable and then they won’t ever feel fully accepted. Maybe they’ll leave and won’t come back. It didn’t work for many of our immigrant ancestors and it still won’t work. So I say to those of you with unusual-sounding names from other cultures, be proud and don’t cover it up with an American-sounding nickname. Your grandparents would be disappointed. Fight the ignorance and stupidity that still exists.
In contrast, some parents give their kids American-sounding names and that’s fine. It’s their right. But in a way, it’s denying their heritage. I suppose, using a culturally correct name that is more acceptable here is probably the easiest way to go but that limits choices. And who doesn’t want to name their kid without barriers?
Speaking of names and pronounciation, check out this other blog post from July, 2006.