What's in a name?

“Hi, my name is Ashwini, but you can call me Ash.”
I rush out the string of words without even pausing to take a breath. Plopping down promptly after my brief introduction, I feel satisfied, watching the relief break out on a majority of faces as my name becomes chopped and instantly easier to pronounce.
This has easily become second nature, reiterating the simple phrase almost every time I introduce myself to someone new.
Ash: It’s simple, cute and familiar.
It’s been so long now that I’ve utilized this moniker, that often times the words will dance out from my lips by natural habit. “You can just write Ash” I smile politely, when the sales associate at the mall, pauses nervously, scratching her head before writing my name on the board outside the dressing room.
My full name is Ashwini. It’s a wonderful name. My parents named me after the word for “star” in Sanskrit. What a coincidence, that Ashwini also happens to be the namesake of the God(s) or Ashvini twins, representing fortune, in my native Hindu heritage.
However, the uniqueness and beauty of my name never did fully dawn on me. Ashwini was never a name I’d find on the key tags, scouring gift shop after gift shop. I’d constantly pour over the Sarah’s and Elizabeth’s, Melinda’s and Avery’s, but never once when I indulged into the magical realm of fantasy in my beloved novels, the name “Ashwini” greeted me.
I was ashamed of the snickers I would hear during morning attendance— to the point that whenever the teacher would pause with a quizzical glance, I would raise my hand, noting my presence before their mouths had the opportunity to shape around my name. My only thoughts were to protect my social conscience, and prevent any of the kids at school from butchering my name, and assigning a multitude of teases: Weenie, Weiner, Wenis; I’ve heard it all.
I longed to fit in with my peers, my brown skin and dark eyes already proving a stark contrast from the kids at school. I bugged my parents ignorantly all throughout middle school, begging, pleading for a name change. I envied my friends, with whom the substitute never had a problem pronouncing their name, greatly juxtaposing the torturous time they had, when it came to mine.
It was then, I made the conscious decision to go by Ash. A pretty, simple name. “Ash” that could be an “Ashley” or an “Asha.” It was perfect.
My nickname had evolved over time to submerge into a new identity. Gone were the days of mispronunciations and the fear of someone butchering my name. Introducing myself as “Ash” was clear cut, easy. The nickname “Ash” was plain and simple, ringing clearly as day.
But was it one to be proud of? 
I can still remember the first time my parents heard my nickname. Both of them came to pick me up one day after fourth grade. “Bye Ash!” my friends called out, as my mother suddenly displayed a crestfallen stature.
“Ash? Why not Ashwini?” My father questioned, with a hurt demeanor.
I brushed it off. My parents didn’t understand the pain I felt from my name. But as I grow older, I realize how could they?
Why must I perfect my name to make it more palatable or easier for others to pronounce? By no means, I reflect, have I ever hated my name. 
But, what I do dislike, is the cultural erasure and identity that came adrift with me choosing this particular nickname. I’ve come to realize, that I am forcing myself to fit into a jigsaw puzzle, where that one astray piece, no matter how hard we try to force it, just won’t fit. I am that piece.
I shouldn't have to modify any part of myself, nor my identity to feel as a whole in society. Inadvertently, I had gotten myself tangled into the fragile web of cultural assimilation. I’ve always felt a loss of belonging, my name the factor that pushed me away from the “normalcy” I’d recognized in others. Many times, I’ve regarded myself as foreign, and I’ve felt forced to adapt to atypical ideals. I’d always thought that by changing my name, that I’d somehow magically change the shape of that puzzle piece, and fit in.
But by modifying this part of me, this part of myself, I caused a swift blow to my identity. 
My beautiful name. 
My parents bestowed upon me one of the greatest gifts that they’ve had to offer, honouring the rich culture that I’ve descended from. This is not something to be embarrassed over. In fact, why should I be ashamed at all, of the gem that is my name, and the heritage it expresses. The name “Ashwini” reflects my traditional Indian and Malaysian roots. What pride and joy, it brings me to finally come to this crisp observation.
I am not going to conform to this standard, by changing my name. If it is difficult for you to pronounce, I am not going to be one, to adapt to the norm of changing it, and taking away the untold whispers of my distinct identity. 
The older I become, the more my eyes have widened to the understanding of the importance and appreciation of cultural identity. A name holds so much more than just power, but an identity, culture, and history. A name is just the beginning, the tip of unraveling the story of you.
So, it is with this, that I bid a hearty goodbye to the nickname, “Ash.” I like the nickname Ash, I really do. I think it’s lovely when I hear the words spill out from my friend’s mouths. 
But, I will no longer use it to introduce myself. It will always be a part of me that I will grapple with, hesitating whether or not I should stop myself from correcting the kind stranger who started a conversation with me in line. However, it’s time to honour my real name, and bring forth the rich heritage that I’ve descended from. And, I’ll be the one to decide whether you can call me “Ash” or not.
So hello, my name is Ashwini. It’s very nice to meet you.

CONVERSATION

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