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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The ups and downs of growing up with an uncommon name

Ariel Zhou

Your hair? No, meh-hair. My hair? No no no, it’s pronounced meh-hair. When your first name is Meher, the jokes keep rolling in and, trust me, you are not the first person to think of them. And they’re not very funny.

Growing up, I found my name was always among those to be badly butchered by teachers and others. Ever since kindergarten, the first day of school role call was my biggest recurrent fear. What will they call me today? Me-her? Mah-hair? I understand that the idea of combining two pronouns to form a name is generally uncommon in English, but at least make an effort to pronounce it right.

The name originates from a Punjabi word meaning blessing, but perhaps surprisingly, Meher isn’t a very common name in Indian cultures, let alone other cultures. 

Truth be told, though, the many different ways my name has been pronounced don’t even faze me anymore. When a teacher asks if they pronounced my name right, the majority of the time I will tell them they did even if they didn’t. I’ve honestly given up trying to correct people; in fact, it is more common to pronounce my name wrong than right. 

  My friends always knew people with the same name as them and I always thought it was the coolest thing to be called by your first name and the first initial of your last name. Having such an uncommon name growing up led to many questions: Do you know who named you? What does your name mean? How do you pronounce your name? Can you repeat that?

While questions like these tormented me growing up, I’ve gotten accustomed to them and have auto-generated responses for such inquiries. I don’t know what my name means; I don’t know who named me; and it’s pronounced meh-hair. Easy, simple responses that don’t allow for follow-up questions are the best way to go.

Don’t even get me started with the fake names that I give Starbucks baristas. Ordering on the mobile app seemed to be the best option for me since it is impossible to get the spelling wrong. However, the times when I forget to do this allow me to unlock the alternative “M” or “Mia” as my new identity. 

Even when traveling, I can’t escape the burdens of having an uncommon name. In Hawaii at the local ABC stores, I would see all of these cute keychains with surfboards that had people’s names engraved on them, but they were always inaccessible for me. My name would never be on those keychains no matter how hard I looked. 

Having an uncommon name isn’t all bad, of course. It’s saved me from potentially embarrassing interactions. Say you are out in public and you hear someone calling out your name from behind you. Now, if my name was common and someone happened to say my name, I would’ve turned around instantly. The embarrassment that would have hit following that interaction would be so debilitating that I would never turn my head around again. Thankfully, I don’t have this problem whenever someone says “Meher,” because I can be 99% sure they are referring to me.

It was only until 9th grade when I met someone with the same name as me, pronounced and spelled the same, that I realized I wasn’t as unique as I thought I was. There were other Mehers in the world, something I never knew growing up. 

All in all, having a unique name makes me feel special at times and odd at others. What’s important to remember is that I will never have to experience the horror of responding to my name being called when it was meant for someone else with the same name as me.

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