On Given Names

I can’t believe I haven’t yet written about the broad issue of the given name. It’s an issue that I know plagues a number of young adults born and raised in 3HO Sikh Dharma. Sikh Dharma/3HO converts are given a “spiritual” name, with roots in sanskrit and gurmukhi. My given name was three syllables, plus my middle name kaur and my last name khalsa. Alot of names start with a Sat, Siri or Gur (or both, or even all three!)

Needless to say, once away from 3HO, introductions were not much fun. With names like Satgurschnrub Kaur Khalsa, and so on, one can relate!

I’ve come to have the opinion that Right-off-the-bat inquiries into the origins of my name are actually nosey and borderline rude, as opposed to when I was younger and really did think someone was truly interested in ME. Lesson? Don’t ask someone about their life story when just having been introduced to them seconds ago. For years, in my attempt at evading the saga that was my (our) upbringing, I’d get uncomfortable and squirmy and wound up just wanting who ever it was I was speaking with to go away, leave me alone. Sometimes I used the old “hippie parents” routine, but the dilemma was that I felt compromised, because, well, I know that most hippies still managed to keep their own identities. I’m letting my parents (and their leader) off too easily by dismissing their choices as typical hippie behavior.

But be frank and use the word CULT and your new acquaintance gets a little uncomfortable. Or maybe just a little too intrigued for a first encounter. Either way, it’s no solution.

I find myself particularly in a jam when I meet someone from India. They understand my name, easily identify it as Indian and usually translate it for me from whatever language they most easily identify with. They then want to know, and often act as if they are entitled to an explanation. They want to know how a white person with no apparent signs of religious conversion wound up with an Indian name! Desperate to not be pegged as the girl who just discovered yoga and how good her ass looks in yoga pants, yet only managed to expand her knowledge of Hindu culture enough to start going by saraswati, I say “I was born with this name”. And then usually that just leads to more questions…

No… Way… Out…

Cut to now. I often shorten my name on first encounters, and it suits me, and the situation almost every time.

11 Replies to “On Given Names”

  1. I have struggled with the name issue for years. I lived at GNFC for a
    couple years and was raised in a very fanatical ashram. After leaving
    3ho when I was around 13, my mother said I could choose any name I
    wanted. This I found exciting at first and insisted on being called
    Stephanie (which is nothing like my Sikh name) by the time everyone
    started calling me that, I hated the name and wanted it to be changed
    again. I have never legally changed my name but now use a common
    American name that sounds similar to part of my Indian name so that I
    don't have to hear the "where does that name come from?" when I meet
    people. It’s hard; my identity has been split up in several different
    pieces that are very separate from each other.

  2. In the early 70s, my son's father was on the fringes of 3HO. When our son was born, he asked me if I would allow Yogi Bhajan to name our son; stupidly, I agreed. YB gave my son a 4-syllable name follow by Singh. On his birth certificate we gave him his father's last name/birth name, so that Singh became the middle name. This child, with absolutely no 3HO connection, was saddled with this weird name. Fast forward . . . when my son was 7-years old he came home from school one day and very adamantly said he was changing his name. I said, "Well, what name have you chosen?" To my great surprise, he said the very name which I had originally chosen for him (I was certain I had never shared that with him)! From that day forward he refused to answer to his 4-syllable Indian name and the transition was quite easy for me. On his school records, I changed his first name to his new Amer. name, changed his middle name to the first letter, only, of his Indian name, and dropped the Singh completely and, of course, kept his last name. At 7-years old he told me that is how he wanted it. I never did a legal or formal name change but he had no problem getting a drivers license or a passport, as a young adult. He has traveled and lived abroad most of his adult life and has never been questioned about his name.

  3. I don't know if anybody still reads this but I was a student at MPA for 6 years from when I was 9 to when I was 15. I have struggled with the name change thing for years and finally today at the age of 21 I started the process to change my name legally.

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