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What's in a Name?



My name is Pondharshini, but I have gone by Ponde and/or Dharshini my entire life.


Growing up, I used to hate the first day of school. I would watch with increasing anxiety as the teacher would go down the list of names, reciting them with ease until one threw them for a loop. I watched their eyes widen in confusion and their foreheads wrinkle as my name stumbled out: "Pond-". My hand would strike up like lightning, cutting them off, as I would rapidly spit out "I go by Ponde!". The teacher would sigh out of relief and move on to the next name as I slumped back into my chair, exhausted by the whole ordeal.


I can recall a handful of times where I was made to feel like my name wasn't "right". My teachers would directly ask me if I had a nickname instead of trying to pronounce it, my classmates would tell me my nickname "made more sense" than it, and any standardized test I took didn't have space for it. There were so many little, little things about my name that made it stand out, causing me to distance myself from it more and more.


When I first made a LinkedIn, one of the first things I was asked to do was type in my name. I remember just staring at the screen for a while as I debated what to put. Was it going to be Pondharshini (a name few knew me by) or Ponde (a name everyone knew me by)? As I was debating this, a distant memory came to mind. I was accepting a prize for a writer's contest and when my name was called, I corrected the speaker that my name was Ponde, not Pondharshini. My father, who never once questioned my decision to go by Ponde, reminded me after the contest that while it is my decision to go by Ponde, Pondharshini is my legal, given name. It is a name that has meaning, ties to my culture, and a distinct uniqueness that belongs exclusively to me. At the time, I didn't think much of my dad's comment, but staring at that LinkedIn sign-up screen, I suddenly knew what I wanted to be professionally known by; the name my grandfather spent so much time creating: Pondharshini Sadasivam.


Pondharshini is a name that I love with all my heart now. I love that people find it interesting; it gives me an excuse to talk with them. I love that people ask me what it means; it gives me an opportunity to enlighten them. I love that I have never met another Pondharshini; it makes me stand out. I love the thought process that went into creating my name; it makes me love my family even more.


I won't lie to you, I still go by Ponde and/or Dharshini in most social settings, but it's no longer because I dislike my full name. It's because I accept that all 3 names are crucial to who I am and have made me into the person I am today. My names are my identity and although it was a difficult journey, I wouldn't change it for any name in the world.

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