Our names affirm our value as human beings--they're a set of identities that define the norms by which people view us, and thereby differentiate and shape us as worthy members of society. Though names are unique by definition, I assert that they are conflicting in their design. There is within us not only an intrinsic need to belong but also a deep-seated desire to be distinct. Walking this duality of belonging and being can generate conflicting paradigms.
I have had a tradition that starts at the beginning of every school year: whenever I introduce myself and vocalize my name to people I haven't met before, I see a squint in their eyes--signaling a feeling of unease. One of my recurring motifs is the fear I have felt every time I've had a teacher enter my life. And it's worsened when they have started calling roll. I typically see tremendous discomfort when they get to my name, and the two seconds of apprehension they seem to have before verbalizing my name, I think, clearly confirms it.
So, before they actually announce my name, I anticipate their anxiety and raise my hand. "It's Bipul (bee-pool) --that's me," I say. Of course, the obvious concern is whether my name will be pronounced correctly, but a larger worry for me has been whether my name creates, if not an outright, then maybe a subconscious barrier for me to connect with my friends and those around me. "Distinctness" has sometimes felt like a burden--a challenge to my sense of belonging. Truly I'm still conflicted by what might seem to most as a trivial matter.
On one hand, my name compels me to bear the traditions of a Nepali-American with the familial and cultural responsibilities that come along with that label. On the other hand, for people with different origins and sets of values, my cultural identity could cast me as a non-member. While uniqueness represents the apex of individualism, it also means being pulled away from the comforts of belonging--never truly being part of a common collective.Walking this duality is unnerving and confusing, and frankly, I'd be lying if I said I knew what was right. But I believe learning to manage these paradigms has given me a broader understanding of my identity, and, by extension, my sense of self. I have acquired nicknames that will stand with me for a long time: Bipple, Bippity Bop, Bippy Longstockings, and--my personal favorite-- Beanpole (because I'm tall and skinny). I get laughs out of my nicknames, and so do my friends--all of us embracing humor as a way to trump cultural differences. Though these experiences might seem superficial, I have learned to cherish and appreciate them as a part of my personal journey.I don't know what challenges I'll face in the future, but I hope I carry these experiences forward with strength and resolve, both while belonging and being distinct.