My name is not your joke

Amar Batra is a senior staff photographer and weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. (Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus)

Amar Batra is a senior staff photographer and weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. (Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus)

My name is Amar Batra. That’s Amar pronounced like “hummer” but without the “h” as in “ummer.” Batra is spelled phonetically like “BU-thra.” If you can sound that out, then you can pronounce it.

I learned a long time ago though that my name is way too hard to pronounce for some people. From the earliest time that I could remember what was being said to me until around eighth grade, I heard every single variation of my name that was out there. There were the people who thought my name was an American name and so it followed the regular conventions of the English language. There were also the people who though it was “Ammer,” “Armor” and my personal favorite, “Omar.” There are definitely hundreds more variations, but it’ll take too long to actually list them all out.     

For a while, I would introduce myself as “Amar Batra” which doesn’t seem too weird until you actually hear it. I would pronounce my name exactly as it was spelled in the English language. Which was fine for a while, until fifth grade. See in fifth grade, teachers suddenly decided that they wanted to know how to pronounce your name correctly.

So I started trying to explain how to pronounce my name. But when you explain how your name is pronounced you have to explain it to the entire class, and kids don’t really understand how important a name is to your identity. They inevitably make fun of something if they can’t say it. And so “Batra” became “butthole.” The teacher, of course, told kids not to say that but, the teachers can’t be everywhere, and I honestly never brought it up to them if it was said to me. That would be the first of many nicknames and jokes that would be made about my name.

Some of you that know me know that on Snapchat my name is “Umdawg.” That’s one of the few nicknames that I’ve accepted, though it has had its ups and downs. What’s important, though, is that it was a nickname that I was fine with accepting.

The thing is, Americans seem to like to desensitize things they don’t understand. A few months ago, I wrote a column talking about how using the term illegal alien desensitizes us to an actual human rights issue. The same thing happens when we make fun of someone’s name that we can’t or don’t want to pronounce.

My name is representative of everything that makes me, me. My name represents the struggles that my immigrant parents endured as they came to the United States to get a better life. It represents the racism and other struggles that I have faced growing up as one of the brown kids in my mostly white town. It represents my mixed heritage as an Indian-American. It also represents all the cool things I’ve done and accomplished. It encompasses every single time my name is been published followed by “The Daily Campus” or “Study Breaks” or whatever random group decided they want photos. “Amar Batra” represents everything I have done and everything I will do.

You know what my name is not? My name is not the butt of your jokes. My name is my identity and a huge part of me being an American.

America used to be described as a melting pot. The idea was that everyone who became an American would mix together and create the identity of what made Americans, Americans. Instead we got some warped and twisted mindset that Americans could only be Americans if they fit some cookie cutter pattern. If you didn’t fit that cookie cutter pattern then you have to discard everything that makes you, you and become one of many James’s and Jessica’s in the world. Or you can choose to endure the bullying and joking that goes with that. Every person with a non-“normal” name knows it exactly what I’m talking about.

I used to be ashamed of my name and my culture. I used to ask myself why I can’t be like everyone else.  Now, I don’t care. I am who I am. It’s not my job to have to explain my name and my culture to you in way that you understand. It’s certainly not my job to somehow prove how American I am to you. If you can’t figure that out, that’s on you. My name is Amar Batra, and that’s that.      


Amar Batra is a senior staff photographer and weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email amar.batra@uconn.edu. He tweets at @amar_batra19.