সুবর্ণা; the color of gold. In Bengali, my mother tongue, pronounced: shoo-born-ah. The name given to me by my parents, recent immigrants to the Western Hemisphere, lovingly gazing down at their firstborn child in this new world.
The color of gold. My memories of the first three years of my life are backlit in a warm light, created by the love of being brought up in a household of doting parents, grandparents and aunts. I was the center of my little world, seeing everything with innocence and curiosity.
The color of gold. Pretty soon, I started pre-school, where I began to learn English, surrounded by my English-speaking teachers and classmates for hours at a time. There, everyone called me by the actual spelling of my name, Subarna (pronounced: sooh-barn-ah). As a toddler, I obviously didn’t have the mental capacity to think anything about this difference; it was just an addition to my life, something that I went along with. Even though I spent a good deal of my day in preschool, I never truly had fun until I came home and played in my backyard with my grandfather watching me in the warmth of the afternoon, sunlight peeking through the leaves of his extensive garden.
And so my life went on, with me going through my primary education, and eventually middle school and high school, all the while being known as Shuborna (or my nickname, Mumu) at home and Soobarna to the rest of the world. This was never something I questioned, even when I was old enough to realize that the English pronunciation did not align with the way my language intended it to. In fact, at one point I saw this as something to be happy about; I essentially had two identities, something to clearly distinguish my two lives of home and school. I didn’t let one part of my life into the other, and my name made sure of that.
Sometime during the later stages of high school, I remember telling some of my Indian friends that the name they had been calling me by for all these years, the name that led to silly nicknames like “subs” and “subie”, wasn’t the way my name was meant to be. When I told them the actual pronunciation of my name, they, for lack of a better term, freaked the heck out. Among many comments, one reaction that remains in my mind is one of them saying in an exasperated tone, “Shuborna? That sounds SO weird.”
The comment left me feeling a bit uncomfortable, but I didn’t really dissect the interaction until later. Now, almost two years later, here is my response.
No one else in this world besides my parents and I, besides the ancient language of Bangla itself, can determine what is and is not an acceptable way to pronounce my name. My name belongs entirely to myself and my long line of ancestors who have preserved the Bengali culture throughout centuries of good times and bad, through war and oppression and colonialism, and my name, সুবর্ণা, the color of gold, reflects all of these struggles; the struggles of my seven-year-old father fleeing his village in the midst of war, the struggles of my mother as a newly married bride in Canada, separated by oceans and continents from her Mother India, the struggles of my family as they raised my brother and I in a world they had grown up only reading about and seeing on television. My name, সুবর্ণা, the color of gold, is a testament to the strength of my family as every single moment in every single one of my ancestors’ lives has led to me being where I am today.
Today, in a place where the truth of my name, its authenticity, the way it was planted on this earth, is reduced to “Shuborna? That sounds SO weird”. A world where my name, সুবর্ণা, the color of gold, has its light dimmed by someone else’s own perception of the world.
Since that experience, I’ve always been wondering if there will ever be a time when I can let my two lives eventually merge into one. Now, after my first year of college, I feel like that day is coming closer and closer. Throughout the past few months, I’ve found myself opening up to the people around me more than I ever did in high school, and I’ve been struggling less and less with what people think of me or how I look as I walk down the street; as cliche as it sounds, college has liberated my mind and my spirit, bringing me closer, day by day, to accepting myself. But the question that still remains is, who actually is this “myself”, this soul that is finally being unearthed after digging through so may layers? Is she Soobarna, the name I hear most often throughout my day, or is she Shuborna, the name I’m known by only in a small fraction of my world? As I go on with my life, as I make my mark on this world, how do I want to be remembered?
I’d like to think that I want to be remembered as the name that connects me most directly to my roots, the name that calls to mind the most captivating ray of sunshine hitting the earth. In an ideal world, I would have everyone call me by my true pronunciation, Shuborna. But my logical side is constantly nagging, pointing out all of the people who, for almost nineteen years, have called me by Soobarna; people who I call my best friends, who I know will continue to be in my life for years to come. Is it fair to ask them to switch all of a sudden?
While I was in the process of writing this piece, quite a few of my friends on campus asked if they should call me by the true pronunciation of my name; at first, I leaned towards letting them make the decision, saying something like, “only if you’re comfortable switching”. But I realized that this goes against everything that has been bothering me; the whole point is to empower myself, to give myself control over the way I present myself to the world. By letting others choose the pronunciation of my own name, I am continuing to relinquish the power that I had already been giving up for years, the power of defining my position in this world.
All it takes is a simple correction: “actually, my name is pronounced this way.” It’s not that hard to do. Though I still feel strange doing it, I know that once that change has become universal, the world will finally know me in my purest, most golden form.