The Name Game

A name can hold so much meaning to us because it ties us to our roots. For some people, having a unique name may have been a struggle to grow up with.

Photo by Unsplash
Photo by Unsplash

By Chau Nguyen

Here are some of the stories from people on campus and what they've had to say about their names.


Nayzak Satie Najm, Biology and IRG Sophomore

(Nay-zahk Sa-tee Nuh-jim)

Photo by Chau Nguyen
Photo by Chau Nguyen

Q: What does your name mean?

A: My name is a common, gender neutral name in Iraq. My first name means shooting star in Arabic, my middle name means shining, and my last name means star. When I came to America as a ten-year-old, I learned what nicknames were and I went by Star because people kept butchering my name.

Q: Do you have any bad experiences with your name, or been made fun of?

A: My friends would be the ones who would jokingly make fun of my name, like "Neighzak" or "Slimjim Najm." I found it funny at first but eventually I grew self-conscious. It made me feel singled out.

Q: Have you blamed your parents for giving you this name?

A: Right now I don't give blame or resentment to my parents. In middle school I was more disappointed in myself because when we moved to America I had the option to change my name legally, but I didn't. I did feel self-conscious about my name and when people would mess up my name, it made me feel like I wasn't American enough.

Q: Are you ashamed of your name?

A: No, maybe when I was in younger but now I embrace my name. Being in a new culture I didn't know who I was supposed to be and to cope with it I tried to integrate into the American lifestyle by going by my nickname and distancing myself from my culture. Finally, in high school I realized that there are bigger things in the world and that my identity is still who I grew up as, not the person I came to be in this new country. I love my roots and I think more people should be proud of who they are.


Rishi Kumar Gonuguntla, Biology Sophomore

(Reh-shee Koo-mar Gon-oo-gun-tla)

Photo by Chau Nguyen
Photo by Chau Nguyen

Q: What does your name mean?

A: The name Rishi means wise sage, and it's even short for the Hindu god named Hrishikasha. My middle name means mister, and my last name is just named after a village in South India that doesn't even exist anymore.

Q: Do you have any bad experiences with your name, or been made fun of?

A: My friends only really messed around with me. I never took it as if they were being mean to me, it was friendly jostling. When it comes to random people, my name is always mispronounced and it's my fault for propagating it. I just laughed along with the people who couldn't pronounce my name and I never corrected them. People would add a T at the end of Rishi, called me "gargantuan", or "tarantula". After I came to UT people don't mess up my name anymore. I feel like the people at UT have a great breadth of experience with names so it's common for people to not mess up my name here.

Q: Have you blamed your parents for giving you this name?

A: I used to be resentful specifically with my mom and question why she named me this. I wasn't too ashamed but I didn't think she realized that other people wouldn't be able to pronounce my name and refer to me. However, I thought generic names would be easier on me but now I realize that it's better to have a unique name. People remember you. And it also allows me to be in touch with my Indian heritage.

Q: Are you ashamed of your name?

A: A couple of times I'd feel ashamed, but not because I disliked it but I thought other names were cool. I would catch myself thinking: "Wow if I had this name my life would be easier". Having an Americanized name would make it easier for people to learn and spell your name, like giving your name at a fast food chain. I was ashamed a little bit, but I don't make my shame into something bigger. My last name made me upset the most because people couldn't pronounce it and I didn't want to be a burden to people who wanted to pronounce my name correctly. I'm really proud of my name now though at UT, I identify with it now more than ever.


Zeeshan Hussain, Economics Junior

(Zee-sean Hoo-sane)

Photo by Kaitlyn Trowbridge
Photo by Kaitlyn Trowbridge

Q: What does your name mean?

A: My first name means brilliant. My last name is a common Pakistani last name, but my parents actually changed it when they came to America. So before it was something other than Hussain.

Q: Do you have any bad experiences with your name?

A: I've been made fun of for my name in elementary school. There have been countless names that the other kids would make up, the one sticking with me the most being Seesaw. Now, people don't say much about my name. If anything they'll question it: "Oh Zee, as in the letter Z?"

Q: Have you blamed your parents for giving you this name?

A: I don't blame my parents for giving me this name. I just wish that they would let me legally change my name to Zee. I go by Zee so much when meeting new people and even my family has now called me Zee.

Q: Are you ashamed of your name?

A: It's not that I'm ashamed of my name, I just prefer people to call me Zee. If anything there's I choice that I make whether or not to be ashamed of my real name. It's more of a preference of not having people mispronounce my name, so I go by Zee.


Chau Nguyen is a sophomore public health student at the University of Texas at Austin.