Our names are like a greeting, a Sat Sri Akal. A hello I come from a culture full of colour.
Punjabi names include Jaswinder, Rupinder, Sharnjeet, Harpinder, and Gurparveen, among others. Sometimes the vowels in these names make Caucasian teachers roll their eyes. So we wring out our flavours and become Jas, Rup, Sharn, Harp, and Gurp because it’s easy. Making them simple for mouths that have never heard syllables from the land of five rivers.
God and my family collaborated when finding my name. Guru Granth Sahib gave me a beginning. Haha which is H, turned to Harpreet –the one who loves God. Growing up I’d slice my name right in the middle, shortening it. I would listen to other names, hear how effortlessly people would remember them. In classrooms I’d make my name a noun dressed up like everyone else. Harp. Small, not taking up too much time and space. My Punjabi ethnicity would ask me why it’s always gets compared to English; I’d ignore its voice.
The first time I realized the importance of my name was while talking to my maternal grandmother (nani). Her full name was Gurmej Kaur Hayer. I remember telling her as a joke that I’d start calling her GKH so she could sound hip and cool. “I like my name,” she said in Punjabi, “It’s the name my parents gave me, the name God wanted me to have. Why would I change a gift from God?” I’ve never seen God, but my grandmother was the closest I’ve gotten to feeling God’s presence. When she said those words, I felt like I received a piece of advice from him.
Slowly I discovered that my name wasn’t meant to be said quietly. Punjabi isn’t quiet, it’s a language with the volume on loud. This name I have the privilege of showing off, it came to me because my ancestors knew how to roar. A name that came to me because my nani had the courage to raise five kids. One of them being my mother, who had the courage to pack her bags and move to Canada. To leave her home, to give me a better home. A name that came to me because my parents worked long shifts, Late hours and early mornings so I could have a sound. Why hide this lengthy name, why not do a show and tell?
Sikh names derive from a holy book full of poetry and teachings from our gurus. To have a Sikh name means being blessed. There’s a sense of pride that comes from hearing a long Punjabi name being pronounced. When the letters of these names roll off tongues, the sound purifies every room. A bit of God hides in these names.
Our names are like a greeting, a Sat Sri Akal. A hello I come from a culture full of colour. They’re like a firm handshake from an uncle, like a tight embrace from a bibi that just wants to feed. These long names, accent heavy, the ones God took his time on so when he presents the letters to us, we ignite.