Hi, my name is Jyoti. I'm 27. I mispronounce my name, to certain people, to make their lives easier. Each time I do, a little piece of me dies inside. I am trying to stop but it’s hard. I’ve been doing it so long it’s become automatic: "Hi my name is jo-tee." When, in fact, it’s jyoh-thee.
Let’s go back to the start.
My name is Jyoti. It means divine light. I was lovingly named by my Dadiji - my paternal grandmother. She would tell me that often as she spoke my name with such warmth, rhyming it with other beautiful Hindi words.
My name is Jyoti. When I started school my mum told them it was Jotty to make it easier for the teachers to say. My classmates would tease me calling me jotty potty. I know they were just children and meant no harm but it still hurt.
My name is Jyoti. I started a new school at the age of 8. I asked my mum to tell them my name was pronounced Jo-tee so the teasing would end. I must have discussed this decision with the two other girls of colour in my class at my old school because I vividly remember one of them saying “I bet people will call you Jo at your new school.”
My name is Jyoti. In secondary school teachers would almost always mispronounce my name, from Janita to Yolande and so many in between. (I know, I don’t understand how they got there either). At the time I laughed about it, so did the teachers, so did my classmates. I saw it as my fault. Of course, it wasn’t my fault, far from it and I can see that now. But 12, 14 and 17 year old me didn’t know that. Each time I had a new teacher and they began the register, I would say my name for them before they had a chance to mispronounce it and embarrass me. I recently found my yearbook and it reads the most embarrassing moment - “When teachers mispronounce my name and call me Joyti, Yolande or Janita.” That should never have been my most embarrassing moment - it should have been theirs.
My name is Jyoti. And here we are, all these years later with many of my friends, friends of all backgrounds and cultures, calling me Jo. It never bothered me. In fact, I would encourage it. I would meet people and they would ask my name. My response was always “It’s Jyoti but you can say Jo if it’s easier”. Now I cringe when I think about saying that. But at the time I didn’t want to be different or draw attention to myself. I didn’t want to feel embarrassed. I wanted to make their life easier and in a way, mine. I kept myself small and played into ‘the good immigrant’ mentality of trying to fit in. Trying not to stand out or cause any awkwardness about my culture.
My name is Jyoti and I never saw my name in the mainstream growing up. In fact, I only saw my name in my mum’s prayer books or heard it at the temple when we chanted mantras and prayers. Each time I would get a rush of excitement. Seeing or hearing my name in that way. If I'm honest, I still do get that rush when I hear my name or see it written in ancient scriptures and mantras.
My name is Jyoti. I used to be a primary school teacher. When I was teaching my children about India, I found a book and the character had my name. A book written in English with my name in. I was 25 when this happened. 25 and finally I felt somewhat represented.
My name is Jyoti. I was 26 years old when my first non-brown friend learnt how to pronounce my name correctly. My beautiful friend had listened to a podcast I was on and heard me refer to myself as Jyoh-thee. She messaged me to apologise for saying my name wrong and asked me how to say it correctly. I said I would teach her the next time I saw her. Only the next time I saw her she had already learnt it - she listened to that clip of the podcast over and over again till it rolled off her tongue. I could have cried with joy. Each time I hear her say it, my heart feels so full, even now. Who knew something so simple could make someone feel so whole and seen.
My name is Jyoti. When I was doing the register at a new school, there was a girl with an Indian name. As I saw it I realised I had two choices - to say it correctly or to say it how a white person would. I chose the former. I watched her face light up. I watched her classmates laugh and tell me I said it wrong. I watched her say no, actually, she said it right. I watched her be my shadow for the rest of the day. I thought to myself, if someone had done that for me when I was 10, imagine the power it would have had. I have gone into many schools and I always take the time to learn how to say the child’s name correctly - whether it’s Polish, Romanian, Arabic or any other language. I know how it feels. I know that my words have power.
My name is Jyoti. Even my Indian friends call me Jo. My mum always disliked it and I never understood why. She would say “They’ve ruined your name.” As I grow older, I see her point. Not that Jo isn’t a lovely name, but that my name is beautiful. I am proud of its origins, its meaning, its roots.
My name is Jyoti. From now on, when I meet someone new, I will introduce myself as Jyoh-thee. I will say it over and over and over again till they get it right. I will not feel awkward doing so. I will not feel small. I will not allow myself to feel uncomfortable to make them comfortable. I've heard enough white people say it correctly to know it is possible. And if I don’t give people the chance, how will they ever learn? If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky then they can learn to say Jyoti.
Hi, my name is Jyoti. I'm 27. I refuse to mispronounce my name, to anyone, to make their life easier.
As featured in The Mirror