Nikki Haley and the Burden of an Unpronounceable Name

September 29, 2022 | Nachama Soloveichik
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Last week, the American talk-show host Sunny (née Asunción) Hostin attacked the former governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley as a “chameleon” who chose “not to embrace [her] ethnicity” because she does not use her given first name, Nimrata. Nachama Soloveichik comments:

Meanwhile, racist trolls on the right often use “Nimrata” to try to paint Nikki as un-American. All of these people should have done their research. It turns out, “Nikki” is Nikki’s given name. It is a Punjabi name meaning “little one” and is listed on her birth certificate. Nikki is the name she has gone by since she was a little girl—long before any political aspirations.

I work in a public role as a political spokesperson. My name has been in hundreds of articles. I spend a good portion of my life on the phone saying “N as in Nancy, A as in apple, C as in cookie, H as in hat, A as in apple, M as in Mary, A as in Apple.”

At work, I go by “Nahama.” It’s not because I’m ashamed of my name, but because it makes my life easier and the lives of people around me easier. . . . Names are funny. They can tell us a lot about a person or not much at all. In my case, my name tells you about my ancestors and my religion. My last name—which means “little nightingale” in Russian—tells you about my paternal ancestor’s general geography. But names can also be deceptive. Soloveichiks as a clan, it turns out—from my family at least!—are rarely little and not very good singers.

I have adopted a carefree attitude about the predictable awkwardness. I don’t insist on people pronouncing my name correctly or get upset when they inevitably don’t. If I did, I would be upset 80 percent of my life, and that seems like a poor life choice.

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