Upkar Dhillon: Stop Westernizing Your Punjabi Name
"I realized I don’t have to 'fit in' by letting people change my name and identity."
Upkar Singh Dhillon
July 24, 2023 | 2.5 min. read | Opinion
There was a complete shift in my life when I came to Canada as an international student. A world of culture shocks awaited me, away from my family and home for the first time in a completely different world.
One thing that stood out is how Punjabis here are okay with their name being ‘Westernized’ or mispronounced.
“Hey, ap-kar, how are you doing?” I remember being greeted initially.
While my name is Upkar, pronounced “Op kaar”, I was okay with my name being butchered initially. I thought this was normal, but it shouldn’t be.
When I was born, my grandfather named me Upkar, a Punjabi word that means an act of kindness. My name connected me to my grandfather. Mispronouncing it was, in a way, destroying that connection that I have, not only with my grandfather but also with my culture.
My name represents the land I come from, Punjab, and in Sikhi, most newborns are named after getting the first letter of a name from Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
The name of a person is considered to be a reflection of their identity and personality. It is believed the name of a person given at birth can influence their destiny and shape their life path.
I realised over time that many folks immigrating and settling here are not concerned about whether their name is pronounced correctly or not. Most of them just want to fit in as they settle into a new environment. A pressure I myself have felt.
In fact, there are a lot of reasons why one might westernize their name. Research shows more than half of all racialized job candidates whitened their resumes to conceal any racial cues. Job interview callbacks were twice as likely for those who did.
It is a problematic reality that needs to be addressed, but having two names means having two identities, where one is compromising their culture for the sake of social acceptance. This can have a negative impact on one’s self-esteem and their identity. They might feel only Western culture and names are “normal” and acceptable.
It was the last day of my second semester, as one of my professors was retiring that I mustered up the courage to tell him that he had been mispronouncing my name the whole semester.
“Always correct people when they mispronounce your name,” he said, “you have every right to do that.”
I still struggle to correct every new person I meet. Some proactively ask me for the correct pronunciation of my name; some don’t. However, I don’t mind this little struggle as long I am not losing my identity by letting people change my name.
There is nothing wrong in telling people to invest their few seconds to learn to pronounce a name. If they can pronounce the names of characters in Game of Thrones, I don’t think they will struggle to pronounce your name correctly.
I realized I don’t have to “fit in” by letting people change my name and identity.
Upkar Singh Dhillon is a Content Writer and a second-year journalism student at Humber College. He is currently based in Brampton and hails from Teja Singh Wala, a small village in Punjab. He is passionate about reporting on social issues and international news. You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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