What’s in a name?

I don’t know how to pronounce my own name.

I know exactly how my name should sound, though. I know how my parents and relatives say it. I’ve tried to mimic their pronunciation for years, but I can’t quite say it. These two, short syllables have made me feel like an impostor in my own skin. I have spent hours listening to a stranger’s voice say my name on howtopronounce.com, attempting to learn how to say the word the way my mother did when she chose it for me. My inability to say my name is a barrier distancing me from my heritage.

I feel separated from my culture and my identity because of my name.

Names exist somewhere between time. They are able to connect the past to the present. A name can be a legacy one attempts to uphold. A name can be a dark stain on a family that generations have tried to wipe away. Names tether us to our history, whether that be good or bad. Through our names, we supposedly find our identity by embracing the path our ancestors treaded.

But what about those who are burdened with the name of a criminal? Or those forced to fill big shoes? What about those who spend their entire lives honoring a past life and, in the process, start to lose their own?

Our names are connected to our identity in some way, but our names are not our identity. People’s cultures shape them, but in the end, they are the only people in control of their lives. Names aren’t prophecies. We can control our fate.

You do not need to know your name to know who you are. Everyone has a distinct sense of “self” regardless of whether they know their name or history. In fact, research from The Atlantic has shown that amnesiacs retain their overall identity even when their memories and their name fade away. Even without knowing one’s past, an individual can still know who they are.

Some, however, say that only through embracing our name and our roots can we learn who we are as a person. This idea stems from the belief that our history affects our every action, thought, and belief.

Connecting the past to the present is not harmful. In fact, it is the opposite. History continues to teach us about today’s world, but history’s influence on the world is not as great as many believe it to be. People’s personalities are shaped by their environments in the present, not their ancestors’ environments in the past.

Your history does affect who you are. But it shouldn’t become who you are. Every person is much more than their past.

And every person’s identity is much more than their name.

Our histories and cultures can encourage us or deter us. Our histories may be remembered and embraced, or they could be forgotten and abandoned.

The future isn’t solely controlled by the past. We have the ability to change it. We have the ability to create new meaning in our names that make us worth remembering. We are in control of our own identity. Our names are chosen for us, but our identities are not.

My name is Drishti Upadhyaya, and, no, I cannot pronounce that correctly. But that’s okay. I’ve wasted away years trying to relearn my name rather than learning who I am. My identity is much more than my name.