What’s in a name?

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

This book was suggested and given to me just this past Saturday while I was on vacation in Mendocino, CA. I finished it on Monday. I couldn’t put the book down. The story is a story I know very well, and a story that a lot of Bengali-Americans know. I did a little background study on Lahiri after I finished the book, and found out that she told the story so well, because she lived it.

As I read the story about the Ganguli family, I kept remembering times in my life that I could relate to. I could hear the Bangla being passed back and forth between mother and son, even if it was written in English. I felt the frustration for both the parents and the children, the cultural and generational gaps causing rifts between them.

One of the most striking things I felt was the situation with Gogol’s name. There is extensive discussion about his name, because of course, the title is The Namesake. Some of you may know that I go by my middle name, or my family name. But professionally, on all my documents, I have my “good name,” and my sister has the same one. So, in kindergarten, I asked the teacher to call me Ayesha. This led to several years of my name being incorrectly pronounced, with three syllables instead of two. There were lots of questions for explanations, and a lot of sighs, and a few people I gave up on ever saying my name correctly. And then, when I came to college, many of my friends found my first name prettier than my middle name. I started to think about going by my first name, and the thought was overwhelming. I am Ayesha. It means something to me, and to my parents, and to my friends. I accomplish many things by being Ayesha, and I don’t know that Syeda would do as much. A name holds a lot. It’s hard to change. I don’t regret it, but there are times when I wonder what my life would have been like if I was Syeda instead of Ayesha. And then, of course, your college’s registrar’s office prints your name as Ayestria in the commencement program. That’s a hard one to live down, but I digress.

These were my first thoughts on The Namesake. Next, I will explore the love stories in the novel, and my thoughts about it.


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