I shifted uncomfortably in the little toddler seat feeling like Goliath at Lilliput’s dinner table. My 3-year old’s teacher spread out a sheaf of papers displaying his work—art, writing, craft. She went through his grades for performance—social skills, fine motor skills, fine arts, math.
I felt my complacent self move aside to make way for a hassled competitive mother of a toddler. I squirmed at all the 2s and 3s and beamed at the 5s. I wanted to jump out of my chair, grab all the other files piled in the folders and take a look at which kid stood where.
The teacher showed me a piece of paper with incoherent scribblings. That was my son writing his name. While there were interesting shapes, there was nothing in there that resembled any English letter.
If I had shown it to my son, he would have pleaded with me to concoct a story with all the sticks and stones that he had sketched on the paper. I stifled my giggle when the teacher announced that kids were supposed to write their names by now.
“Really!” I heard myself say aloud. She pulled out another promising child’s paper and showed me an example of how a child should be writing at that point. “After all he would be going to kindergarten soon,” she added emphatically. I ruefully looked at the prized paper belonging to some other proud parent with a name splashed across playfully but fully legible. Four full letters put together calling out a sweet little girl’s name. “Oh!” I managed to say after an awkward pause. And then internally I grimaced at the tough time my son probably would face with his nine lettered name—S I D D H A R T H.
It was a beautiful name—one that had pith, substance and meaning. It means one who has attained all his goals. It is also the name of Gautama Buddha, the seer who attained Nirvana. One of my favorite books authored by Hermann Hesse on the spiritual meaning of life and inspired by Buddha is also named Siddhartha.
And when we had to decide on a name, it was the one name that managed to withstand criticism from both sides of the family too. Yes, like many others, we went through the list of hundreds of names, some had felt too terse, some too raw, some reminded us of someone unpleasant. “Siddharth” on the other hand felt just right.
No, it was no Bob or Tom or Raj. It didn’t easily roll off the tongue and it was not so easy to remember. But neither do Hermione Granger or Daenerys Targaryen. And yet they have high recall value so much so that parents are apparently naming their kids after these famous characters.
Then again we live in the Bay Area where names like Wochiski, Blecharczysk, Srinivasan, Thirunavukkarasu, are common parlance. Sure they will be shortened, examined for hidden meanings, given some flavor and zest, go through several avatars for the benefit of the various circle of friends and acquaintances that they traverse through.
Yet, a name represents the culture we come from, our roots. It is a promise of our own unique offering to the world. It is the first manifestation of the love, as well as the aspirations and dreams we as parents see for our children.
A name becomes a part of our identities. A name is a beautiful thing. And really, if we expect our kids to be writing legibly before they are four, thrive at Russian math school, top the spelling bee, score a 4.0 and also win a sports scholarship, be valedictorian, and respect our elders, invent a flying car or fly to Mars—surely, a nine lettered name is not going to create much of a ruffle.
As if reading my thoughts, the teacher assuaged me, “Oh don’t worry, he will be writing his full name by the end of the year.” I smiled at my ambitious, all embracing Californian teacher.
I took a few more notes, collected the papers and hurriedly headed to the door. Was that Mrs. Guilmeneau next in line?
Sandhya Acharya worked in the area of corporate finance and is now actively pursuing her passion for words. She is a mother of two boys and a dance enthusiast living in Santa Clara. A version of this article was read out on KQED’s “Perspectives” program.