Opinion | The struggles of growing up with an ethnic name

Image via Wikimedia Commons

By Devi Ruia, Senior Staff Columnist

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Growing up Indian American, society expected me to be a walking stereotype — a math prodigy, Harvard-bound member of “brown town” with fresh-off-the-boat parents who “talk funny” and don’t let me have a social life.

As a result, anything that made me less than “normal” was something that I wanted to avoid, so I absolutely hated my name. I dreaded every first day of school when teachers would stumble over how to say my full name, Devika — for the record, it’s pronounced Day-vee-ka. I’d tell them they could call me Devi, and then I’d spend the first month or so of school correcting them on the pronunciation. Sometimes some idiot would point out that it was “like Davy Jones,” which usually worked but wasn’t exactly the comparison I was looking for.

I was pissed at my parents for naming me Devika, which my Dad, of all people, pushed for. Both of my parents were born and raised in America but my mom, Gita, was more well-versed in people having trouble with her name. She had a whole list of sort-of-ethnic-sounding-but-also-kind-of-white names that she wanted to call me. My dad, who spent his life as Rick — the most stereotypical, American dad name — had no idea about the struggles of having a “weird” name.

He was absolutely set on calling me Devika and somehow that was the one argument he won with my mom. They seemingly learned from their mistake with me because my younger sister was named the easy-to-pronounce Karina. Both of my cousins got easy-for-white-people-to-say names too — Maya and Sean.

Luckily everyone calls me Devi and always has, but this version of my name isn’t that much easier for people to say or to wrap their heads around at first. I get the constant double take when I introduce myself as Devi. I’ve gone years with people who’ve seen it written down pronouncing it “Dee-vee” or “Dev-ee.” I guess I’m resigned to a life of people, especially Starbucks employees, butchering my name in the weirdest possible ways, such as:

  1. Dani 

Once a professor spent the first month of the semester calling me Devi, then inexplicably switched to calling me Dani for the remainder of the semester. I also had a girl who I had been in multiple classes with during high school randomly call me Dani during our junior year. It’s not that close to Devi, but I usually just go with it.

  1. Daybee

There’s a good chance the Starbucks barista who wrote this one was just not paying attention, but I will never get over turning over my cup to see ‘Daybee’ written out. I mean, that’s not a name. Who in their right mind would think that someone would be called that? Maybe I should just start telling Starbucks employees my name is Rick, like my mom does whenever she places take-out orders. I’d still get the double take, but at least they’d spell it right.

  1. Deevee

This one is pretty common from people who see my name written down more often than they hear it said out loud. I correct people the first time because it’s totally understandable that no one is going to look at D-e-v-i and think that it’s pronounced “Davy.” After the first two or three times correcting people I usually give up though, which is a bit unfortunate because it happens pretty often. I was pretty close to one of my teachers in high school who I had two years in a row. He called me “Deevee” up until the month before graduation when a friend of mine got fed up and corrected him. 

  1. Dave

This one is mostly just a nickname of a nickname from my friends — my close friends and my family call me Daves — but I have actually gotten called Dave a couple of times by strangers. The same Panera employee who wrote my name down as Dave wrote my friend Autumn’s name as “Adam,” so I guess in retrospect mine wasn’t as bad. I do feel for the employees stuck writing down names all day because it can’t be easy, but I have zero sympathy for the people who know me and still can’t get it right. 

  1. Debbie

This one makes even less sense than Dani. Just because it starts with a D doesn’t mean it’s correct, folks!

  1. Daisy

*See Debbie*

Look, I understand that it’s not easy for people to wrap their heads around names that they’re not used to hearing. But if people can figure out how to say Daenerys Targaryen, I think that they should be able to wrap their heads around Devi Ruia.

Devi primarily writes about politics for The Pitt News. Write to her at dvr7@pitt.edu and follow her on Twitter for more humor and some hot takes @DeviRuia.

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