I met my first friend at university, Sarah, in the introductory lecture to our degree. I remember being extremely shallow and deciding to talk to her because I really liked her outfit. I’d probably be more embarrassed about this if, after a few weeks of hanging out together, Sarah hadn’t admitted to me that she couldn’t remember my name when I'd first given her my number and so had stored me in her phone as ‘Creative Girl’. I was delighted and begged her not to change it. I’m basically a superhero.
I’m not unused to people forgetting my name, and I don’t take offence if they do. I love it when friends admit that they googled how to pronounce my name when we first met. I also don’t mind it if people continually pronounce my name wrong because it means a lot that they are making an effort rather than avoiding saying it all together. Ek, my own sister, couldn’t say my name until long after she started talking (for some reason she called me ‘Eyes’…any ideas why?). Over the years, I’ve become accustomed to answering to a variety of different things.
When I was in reception, my teacher pronounced my name wrong. I was too shy to correct her and consequently I spent my entire school career being called a different name to my own. This means that any non-Indian person that met me before September 2008 says ‘Avani’ so that it rhymes with ‘have any’. Eventually I became brave enough to correct the teachers who pronounced my name as ‘Av-are-knee’, but never brave enough to tell them it wasn’t ‘Av-any’ either. Once I’d corrected them the first time, people tended to remember how to pronounce the version I gave them.
Sometime over the summer period before starting uni, though, I decided enough was enough. If I didn’t introduce myself properly, I would spend my entire adult life as ‘Av-any' as well.
I can still remember the first time I tried out my new-old name. I had just arrived at my university halls when I heard voices in the kitchen. It was maybe five steps from my bedroom door to the kitchen door, but during that walk I was more nervous about whether or not I would be able to introduce myself properly than I was about meeting new people and making friends.
I took a deep breath and pushed the door open.
Two guys were standing there. I waved, registering that they both had brown hair and wore glasses.
I tried to smile. They introduced themselves
And then it was time.
My mouth was suddenly dry. My own name felt heavy on my tongue. I had to force my lips into the right shapes.
‘I’m Uvni,’ I said, and all hell broke loose.
Okay, well no it didn’t. But I hadn’t expected the transition to be quite as bumpy as it was. I didn't realise just how hard it would be for people to get their heads around ‘Uvni’, especially when ‘Av-any’ was so easily managed. Even though my parents struggle with ‘Thomas’, or ‘Charlotte’, or even ‘Jane’, it never really occurred to me how much people rely how names are spelt to help them learn how to pronounce them.
‘Say the ‘A’ at the start like a ‘U’,’ became my refrain. ‘And then the ‘a’ in the middle is silent.’
But that, of course, only worked for people who had exactly the same accent as I did.
One of the two guys I first met in the kitchen soon came up with:
‘Say ‘oven’. Then say ‘ov’. Then say ‘Ov-knee’. Then say ‘Avani’.’
And I won’t lie – I must have used that trick a thousand times in the five years since.
My school friends find all this hilarious, they don’t really understand why, in all those years, I never told them that they were saying my name wrong – and they’re right. I’m fully aware that it’s no one’s fault but my own. The only explanation I have is that I wasn’t brave enough. I was so scared that people would make fun of me for not correcting my teacher straight away, and then with each year ‘Av-any’ became harder and harder to come away from. These days, the friends I’ve stayed in touch with call me ‘Av’ - not so different from ‘Uv’, which is what my family call me. And, more often than not, if they’re full-naming me they’ll put on an over-the-top Indian accent and go for it.
And whilst I have no difficulty introducing myself as ‘Uvni’ any more, I do sometimes wish it was acceptable for me to go by ‘Creative Girl’.
|The plus side of having a name with lots of vowels in it is that it is extremely alphabet-letterable. We had to makeshift a T for Ek, and poor Ruch still gets called Boch to this day.|