When the phone rings at 6 p.m. in the evening and an unknown caller from the other end says my name, "Can I speak to Shoob-hen hen du Maakhar-jee," ... well, I calmly put down the phone. As a kid growing up in India, I had never imagined that my name could serve as a wonderful mechanism to filter phone calls. The unknown caller at the other end is invariably trying to sell me some junk, perhaps a credit card or a vacation package.
It has been 10 years since I came to the U.S. and not a single person has pronounced my full name correctly yet. My name is Shubhendu Mukherjee. Some have come close, but not entirely correct. This is because in my native language Bengali, we have a special alphabet "bha", which is somewhere between b and v. My name uses this alphabet and causes grief for people raised in the U.S. So, I use my nickname-Shubu, and now I am widely known as Shubu Mukherjee. There goes all the effort my parents had spent in trying to find a name for me. Shubhendu in Bengali means the "Blessed Moon." I come from a family of mooners (no pun intended). My father Ardhendu Mukherjee is the "Half Moon" and my brother Dibyendu is the "Glowing Moon." These sound almost like Native American names, such as "Dances with Wolves."
I didn't realize until recently that in the heart of my hearts I do want people to call me by my name, even though I understand fully why non-Indians have a hard time pronouncing my name. A couple of months back I was on a business trip in Bangalore, India and the attendant at the airport counter asked me, "Mr. Shubhendu Mukherjee?" She pronounced my name correctly and I almost had tears pouring down my eyes. In an instant I saw flashbacks of Northwest, Continental, or American airline attendants struggling with my name and ultimately giving up with a courteous smile. It does feel good to hear your name pronounced properly by a stranger.
Now we are faced with the harsh reality of naming our kid. The constraints are enormous. Should we name our kid Nancy, Lisa, Mark, or David, so that others can easily pronounce the name? Or, should we name our kid Daipayan, Krishnendu, Domointi, or Rajnandini to satisfy our parents? Popular Bengali names, such as Ashit (can be, well, misinterpreted), are obviously a no-no. Now I wonder whether Shakespeare would have still thought, "What's in a name," if he were faced with the choice of finding a name for his kid in a multi-cultural society.