Chhavi

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What is in a name? Everything. In many cases, we are known by our names from the moment we are born till the day we die. Our names are powerful. They can define who we are, who others think we are, and, ultimately, who we think we are.

My journey with my name is a complicated one.  Miswritten as Chavi, Chaavi, and Chavvi. Misspoken as “sha-vi,” “chha-vay,” and more commonly, “chha-vi.” Misunderstood for a word that means key in many languages. I don’t blame others for committing any of these mistakes because I know my name is foreign to those who grew up speaking a language other than Hindi. I never made the effort to correct those who misunderstood my name because it seemed like too much work, but now, it has become a part of who I am. Allow me to introduce myself.

Hi! My name is Chhavi, with a double H. Unlike the way most people pronounce it—with the A sound in “chart”—the correct pronunciation of my name is with the A sound in “ago.” Phonetically, it is not \chhä-vē\, it is \chhə-vē\. Chhavi does not mean key, it means reflection, image, and radiance.

I was named after my father, Ravi. My father was born in Kota, India on December 26. I was born in the same town on December 27, just one day after his 31st birthday.  In a way, I was a reflection of him—Ravi’s Chhavi. For the first four years of my life, I was only known as Chhavi—with the A in “ago.” When my family and I moved to the United States, that changed.

I still remember my first day of preschool. My teacher was writing down all the students’ names and giving us our name tags. It was my turn.

“What’s your name, sweetie?”

“Chhavi,” I replied shyly.

“Can you say that again? I don’t think I got that.”

“Chhavi,” I said again, feeling my cheeks turn red.

“Chhavi? Like cha-cha?”

My English wasn’t the best at the time, and I didn’t want to keep correcting her, so I just nodded my head.

“Great! We are so thrilled to have you with us, Chhavi!”

From that day on, I became known by two names. At home, I am Chhavi—with the A in “ago”—and outside of the home, I am Chhavi—with the A in “chart.” After all these years, I have come to realize that I prefer to have that distinction. Chhavi—with the A in “ago”—is intimate; it is close, personal, and reserved for my family. It portrays where I am from and helps me feel closer to my Indian roots.

Chhavi—with the A in “chart”—is strong, bold, confident, and how I wish to be seen by others. It started off as a word formed for the sake of convenience, but I feel that in a way, it represents my American upbringing. “Being ‘fully integrated’ as a person… refers to a set of experiences of satisfaction…derived from a perceived smoothness in social contact,” and Chhavi—with the A in “chart”—allowed me to do precisely that in this country (Blommaert, 2015, p. 3). I accept both names in my life because I openly accept both identities as a person. 

Hi! My name is Chhavi. What’s yours?

This was from a paper I had written for class, but I thought it was an amazing way to start off my blog!