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Josh gets a substantial portion of his nourishment from the hospital cafeteria. You'd think they would have a thoughtful menu: low in fat, cholesterol and sugar with lots of fruits, grains and greens. Yes?


Fried chicken, burgers and whatnot are standard on the menu.

Even though the mama bear in me thinks she has control over the cub's eating patterns, I don't. I haven't had that in more than a decade. Still, visions of arterial clogging do worry me and I frequently remind him to eat well.

Last week, he sent this to the family text thread.

He added, "Thanks Mom and Dad!"

At first we all laughed. I pictured a woman who is diligent about pronouncing names correctly but fumbles constantly. Relief must have washed over her when a "Josh" came along with a tray laden with calories.

As time went on, the situation got murky. Normal name with a normal complexion - what is that in our super-diverse and globally mobile world? It doesn't mean much, but Tarun and Rumy are certainly "abnormal" on the cafeteria lady's scale.

When I am called Remy, I don't even bat an eyelid. Add Mr in front of Remy and now you've got my feathers ruffled. Fuhgetbout my legal name with its nine letters, four syllables and five consonants. Total showstopper. Tarun's been called Tron (!), Bob, and Senator (ahem, last name). He doesn't bother either. We simply move on otherwise we'd be correcting people all the time.

We were adamant about giving our kids names that work in English and Bengali. Since Tarun's side of the family excels at producing XY kids, I went into labor with only a boy's name. That gamble paid off handsomely. We named our baby "Neil" because it is normal in the US, full name "Neilayan" because that is normal in India. When I was pregnant with Josh, it took months to come up with a name that would work. His middle name is Raj to prevent tongues from getting tied given his last name. Truth be told, we didn't have any more kids because we ran out of bilingual boy names!

In Irish Neil means champion, in India it is a name for Lord Shiva. Josh means salvation in the west and fame in India. In the end, everyone was happy - my in-laws, parents, us, and our friends in America and India.


When Neil was in high school, one of his teachers looked at him quizically on the first day of class and asked whether his name is pronounced "Neeeeel?" Yes! Just plain old normal Neil. His complexion clearly trumped logic on that day. Josh had a different problem. Growing up, he was frequently called Joshua and that irked him no end - like, why is there a need to mangle normal Josh? He hit a brick wall during an immersion program in Seville. His host family called him "Yack" because neither "Jo" nor "sh" exists in Castellano. Epic fail!

In 2045, whites are projected to be 49.7% of the population; a minority in a mere 22 years. How will cafeteria lady react then? Will she be excited to see a Josh with his complexion come by with a high calorie tray because he is the norm? Or will she be wondering why Josh doesn't have a more contextual name?

In either case, the lesson learned here is to take time to pronounce a name correctly. If you think Indian names are teeth rattlers, consider Achtymichuk, Durchdenwald and Kolodzeijski. I had a client who had a hyphenated first name. When I met her for the first time, I asked her how do you want me to say your name. She was thankful I asked because people just assume what she wants to be called.

Don't assume. Don't mangle. Ask and practice.

Thanks to my normal kids for being utterly unique and finding humor when others might see racism.

Now, about those calories Josh, watch it or I'll re-christen you Yack!

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