As many of you probably know, a long name is not unusual for those who have been named by Sri Lankan parents. I am certainly not an outlier. My full name is Mithurja Pathmanathan.
What’s unusual about this name is not only that almost everyone, including those from Sri Lanka, choose to showcase their creativity when reading it, but that ‘Mithurja’ had no meaning. I used to envy my friends whose names had beautiful meanings or stories behind them.
I used to hesitate to correct people. The worst of all mispronunciations was when my name used to be read out by my science teacher when taking the register.
Brittany ... (followed by a long pause and baffled look on the paper)
MithurAja” (followed by loud laughter among the classroom).
That is just one of the thousand embarrassing versions of my name that I have come across all my life. When I was asked what it meant, I had no clue what to say.
Being insecure about my name, however, did not occur to be a major issue until I was asked to shorten to ‘Mithu’ to make it convenient for others to call me. I was told by my mentor that my job prospects will be higher if I didn’t reveal my full name. Although it made much sense at first, I started feeling disappointed, dissatisfied and to be precise, incomplete when hiding what my parents proudly named me.
Until this year, my name seemed like a huge obstacle to getting opportunities, interacting with others and most importantly, to my self-confidence. I even considered quitting my dreams of becoming a barrister when all I saw were easy-to-read lawyers’ names.
It all changed last month, when I met a barrister who herself had a Sri Lankan name. She is not only a successful human rights barrister, but a head of chambers, too.
One day, I observed her speaking to the other side counsel on the telephone during a case management conference.
Shivaa... ,” other side counsel gives up saying her name and proceeds.
I chuckled. I had completely normalised this situation, but the Sri Lankan barrister didn’t.
“My name is Shivani Jegarajah...I can help you say it. It’s Shiv-ani Jega-rajah.”
Other side counsel immediately corrects herself and apologises.
This one incident taught me the power of standing up for yourself. I realised that my name is a gift and began to see the bright side of it having no pre-fixed meaning, for I get to decide what to make of it.
I now proudly say: My name is Mithurja Pathmanathan. Mithurja means a strong, fearless, and most importantly proud woman."
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