My name is not a common one and it’s difficult to pronounce – even for other Indians. It’s routinely mucked up depending upon the geographical origin of the speaker. So other Indians tend to call me – Shomita, Shamita, Sangeeta, Sameeta, Sarita, Savita… And Americans, who really like a syllable to stress, call me SAM-i-tuh and suh-MEE-tuh*, or – in the case of my mother-in-law – kiddo ;-)! I never had a nickname growing up either. But one time in eighth grade my Math teacher started calling me Samson because I would solve all the tough problems he assigned – but curiously I couldn’t solve them after a haircut! Just a little Biblical humor here people, settle down!
A lot of very nice people will ask me – “Well how does your mother say it?” And that’s a fair question – which version would you like? The version I hear most is the annoyed/frustrated/exasperated/are-you-effing-kidding-me version which goes – (at the uppermost vocal register) SAMHITA!!!! The other version reserved for introductions/warnings/life-lessons is a matter-of-fact Sum-vhi-ta. And the third version reserved for encouragement/praise/love is a softer Saun-hi-ta (संहिता). But please don’t try and pronounce my name like my mom or I will be forced to go all sullen angsty emo teenager on you!
When I was younger I really wanted a short pronounceable name – my friends were called Monica and Ritu and Kavita and Sheetal and Shilpa – all really popular Indian names that didn’t require a session with a speech therapist to learn to pronounce! My parents had decided to name me Maya – which is now my daughter’s name! But my great-grandfather** – a brilliant man by all accounts – picked out my name….I like to think that he took one look at the baby me and said – “that girl needs some real world challenges“! His own name was Ramakrishna Purushottam Patwardhan – so he may have just been bitter – who knows!
Another problem was the meaning. My friends were all named after pretty things – poems and seasons and butterflies and flowers and melodies. My sister’s name means “mother of all the gods” – and boy was she insufferable about it! It also means some kind of holy cow which helped a little but she did play the whole god-mother card quite a bit! My name means – wait for it – a compilation of stuff! Most commonly, a compilation of knowledge – like an encyclopedia, WikiSamhita – which is abysmally nerdy. But – and this is the really shitty part – it could also mean a compilation of….insert-embarrassing-awfulness-here! A Best-of-Carrot-Top-Jokes Samhita, or a Clever-Witticisms-of-Michelle-Bachman-and-Sarah-Palin Samhita, or Delicious-Recipes-with-Spam Samhita!
I’ve just taken to telling people – especially those who get a panicky look in their eyes on first introduction – to call me Sam. And there’s a noticeable relaxation of the shoulders! But – and this is important – I am NOT a Sammy. I refuse to be a Sammy. A friend in college used to call me Sammy and I don’t think she ever got how much I hated it – even though I told her repeatedly – and it drove me absolutely nuts! A Sammy is a performing seal or a dancing bear. A Sammy is a tall, blond, blue-eyed, ice goddess with a BMI of 11 – that’s not me. That will never be me. I’m also pretty sure that all the Sammys in the world got together and have agreed that I just do not belong amongst them!
I want to stress that I like my name now. I’ve liked it since I realized that being different in any way was not a bad thing. It’s a pretty good conversation starter as well. So after having gone through 41 years of my life with this name – I’m not precious about it – I really don’t mind you saying it any way you want. I don’t get people who say – “umm, it’s Kyeersten not Kristin“! Sheesh – a name should not be the rate limiting step of our acquaintance! But call me Sammy and you are dead to me forever!
*Dave said that if I wanted to be completely accurate I should go crazy, and throw in the appropriate uses of the schwa: SAM-i-tə and sə-MEE-tə. See, there are reasons other than pure animal magnetism that we are together!
**I have the deepest love and respect for my great-grandfather who also – when I was only 7 or 8 – presented me with a wonderful book – The Prisoner of Zenda. A swashbuckling romantic tale of intrigue and love and honor and duty which remains, to this day, one of my favorites! Rudolf and Flavia forever!!