I long for a nickname. I am just Noshin Khan. No middle name. Three simple syllables that don’t leave me a lot of room to stretch and play with. So where does that leave me?
Some have suggested Nosh. But it is not the same as being given a daak nam by your family, a rite of passage that carries certain meanings and associations from birth. As an only child, my parents only had one opportunity to pick out names. And even then, they did not use the opportunity of my birth to pick out a second name. Their excuse: it would be too confusing. While my parents have provided me with so much just by virtue of raising me in America, they did not gift me a daak naam. Maybe part of it is that I was born in the States, and wasn’t surrounded by the large extended family my parents left behind in Bangladesh. Or perhaps it was an effort to assimilate into American culture.
Whatever the reason, I envy those with daak nam’s who have a sort of separate persona that they can easily switch to. Flip-flopping between Dolly at home and Fariha at school helps easily differentiate where you are. An unspoken rule dictates who is allowed to call you by your daak nam. The result: an invisible hierarchy of people in your life and the seriousness at which they are addressing you. Your boss and professor call you by your ‘good name,’ while your close classmates, good friends, and family members use your daak nam. The hyphen in Bengali-American is now more pronounced than ever before, coming to the forefront especially as we oscillate between two cultures at home vs. at work and school.
That being said, even though there isn’t a daak nam assigned to me by my parents, there is ample opportunity to give myself a name for my alter ego that grapples to adapt to American culture. With the first generation of newly rooted Bengalis on American soil, a second level of nicknaming emerges. Names get shortened or anglicized for the sake of making it easier for coworkers who cannot pronounce our ethnic names. Mohammed gets shortened to Mo. Tasnim gets shortened to Taz. Junainah gets shortened to June. Sanzidul gets reinvented as Sandy. Liaquat gets reassigned as Leo. In the process of finding our ground in America, we reinvent ourselves to become a new person through nicknames.
Sure, I have the opportunity to give myself a nickname. All of us are guilty of renaming ourselves every time we order a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks. Each coffee trip is an opportunity to give ourselves a different name instead of spelling out our name. Oh what I would do just to not cringe from seeing the cashier struggling to write my name on my coffee cup, or hearing the barista butcher the pronunciation of my name. But at the end of the day, I want an affectionate nickname name that my parents gave me that is completely different from the legal name on my birth certificate. I want the surprise factor of “wait, what’s your actual name?”
But for now, I guess I’ll just be Noshin.