Look, it’s not that I *didn’t* like Gigi and Zayn before, I just didn’t think about them that much. But I guess now I am gonna have to officially add them to my ‘actively enjoyable’ column. I never said I wasn’t fickle, did I?
I paid enough attention to know that she had a baby in the fall, and remembered thinking “If you’re gonna have your first baby in a pandemic when you’re 25, it’s good to live in LA where you can be outside” – but then learned she gave birth on a Pennsylvania farm (!) and that they live in New York, so they notched up in my estimation. A first baby is no joke regardless, but winter in the Northeast with a newborn is an extra level of difficulty, no matter how palatial your apartment. (Also how come the listed price is $1.8M more in ELLE than in HELLO?)
Anyway, today I learned that they’d low-key announced their daughter’s name: Khai, apparently named for Gigi’s paternal grandmother, Khairia, with whom she was apparently close. (‘Khair’ is also sister Bella’s middle name.) Assuming the name is pronounced ‘Khai’ it’s not going to be hard for people to learn to pronounce it (not to mention the entire internet joyfully finding/celebrating/forensic-ing it) but I’m still delighted any time a name of Middle Eastern origin – or really, any non-English/Euro origin – gets celebratory prominence. We don’t need another baby Ava, and it makes sense that two people named Jelena and Zayn would be the ones to do it.
But knowing this name will be widespread, and that nobody will dare write “Check out the CAH-RAZY name Gigi chose for her baby!!”, I wanted to share a letter I got the other day…
I'm curious if you have some advice for me. My name is Kamla, and most of the time when I am introduced to new people, there's a round of "how do you pronounce that again?" or "how do you spell that?" or the person goes on to butcher the pronunciation. To short circuit hearing my name pronounced wrong (usually mispronounced as Cam-la vs. correctly as Comm-la), I have been using fake names for the past 15 years whenever I need to give someone my name in public (e.g., placing a take-out order).
Now, we have Kamala Harris as VP! I have begun to feel joyous at using my real name publicly as more people become familiar with this Indian name. However, Kamala Harris has an additional "a" in her first name and I anticipate more people will just start calling me by her name. I have already seen an uptick in emails from peers (not close friends or family) who are spelling my name like the VP's.
My question is: do I embrace the name proximity to one of our country's foremost and powerful women and learn to answer to Kamala vs. Kamla? Or, what is a fun way to correct folks who use the wrong name?
I can only imagine the frustration here – imagine, after years of mispronunciations, finally having people ‘get’ your name …but only sort of! So close yet still so far… and to be clear, it is too far, because your name is your name, and even being associated with someone as dazzling and singular as Kamala Harris doesn’t mean you shouldn’t want your name pronounced properly.
But because she’s now such a major public figure, you can use her to your advantage. Here’s what I mean:
Next time you are introducing yourself, you say “Kamla”. They frown a bit (as though it’s hard), and you clarify, “Like Kamala, but no extra A. I get there faster than she does.” Or “Kamla, not Kam-a-la.” The point here isn’t to throw shade on Vice President Harris, but to use the familiarity she’s brought to the name to make your similar-but-distinct one seem simple and obvious. Because, at the risk of being pedantic, it is.
I’ve also seen more people than ever recently including pronunciation keys in their email signatures, which I think is incredibly smart. True, some people don’t read them (think about how irritating it was when people first personalized their iPhone mail signatures? “Another awesome email from Okeley Dokeley Jones!!”) but you could absolutely have yours read “Kamla (COMM-la) Lastname”, or even, if you were feeling sassy, “Kamla (not ‘KamAla’) Lastname”. I even thought of using the strikethrough feature to spell it with six letters but then strike out that middle A – however, it doesn’t seem to be that clearly visible, at least in the font I’m using to write this. Your work’s email font may vary, though, so see what you think.
You’re entitled to do all of these things, because it’s your name! Don’t let anyone tell you that having it pronounced properly is in any way less important than knowing you’re never, ever to call Christopher in accounting “Chris”, or that you have to distinguish between Tracy and Tracey, even though they’re the same age and have the same haircut.
As for giving fake names in public – it’s totally up to you and your patience when dealing with places that want your name. If they ask at a coffee place, it is absolutely kosher to say “K-A-M-L-A”, which most definitely doesn’t take any more time for them to write than it would if you explained, “Kamla, like Kamala without the a” and then have them tell you about their friend Camilla. Or, if those INEs -- Incidental Name Events -- don’t bother you when you’re out in the world (once we’re allowed to do that again… I’ve almost forgotten occasions where this might come up) you can just say “Kamla”, and then start an Instagram devoted solely to all the times your name is spelled ‘Kamala’ on a changing room door or coffee cup. For extra credit, if this is amusing to you, and/or you live or visit the D.C. area, or really any mid-sized to large city, you can entertain yourself while in the changeroom or waiting at the restaurant’s host stand, listening as people read ‘Kamla’ (or Kamala) and start whispering, wondering ‘could it really be her?’
And then you’ll smile, because it is her. It’s you. Kamla.
In short – you and Kamala Harris and Khai Malik all live in the same world, and you are each entitled to have your beautiful names pronounced properly, and uniquely. This is the world we’re living in!