It’s raining in Cincinnati, and after spending all day in a spreadsheet, I’m kind of cranky. So this is a quick entry.

For the past 2 weeks, a very interesting phenomenon has occurred. And by “interesting,” I actually mean “terribly annoying.” Strangers constantly come up to me and call me “Sanjaya.” You know, that kid from American Idol. If you’ve seen the show you’d know that I look absolutely nothing like him. Then there’s the fact that he’s…16 years old (and I’m not). If they don’t call me “Sanjaya”, the second most common is a “Surya”-“Sanjaya” mix. Sanurya. Surjaya. Whatever. And yes, I’m being totally serious.

So the progression in my life has been like this:

11/81-12/06: I meet someone and it takes them 15 minutes to figure out how to say my name 15 different ways, before giving up.

1/07-3/07: People come up to me and say, “are you Surya?” or “are you Surya from the Apprentice?” Pretty surreal.

4/07-now: People come up to me and call me either “Sanjaya” or some horrid combination of both of our names. I proceed to just blankly stare at them.

So what’s going on here? Can people really not handle any more than one Indian name at a time? Can people not tell two very different looking / aged Indian-Americans apart?

If there’s any justice in the world, somewhere, wherever that Sanjaya kid is, people are coming up to him and asking him about his fascination with whiteboards and the word “absurd.”

3/28/13 – Ha – I totally remember this. The part that sticks out to me in retrospect, was how upset people got when I would just stare at them and say “No. I’m not.” I just saw last month that someone photographed Sanjaya in NYC playing his guitar and singing for coins. I wonder if anyone looked at him and said “Surya?”

9 Responses

  1. I think the issue is that most people are intellectually lazy and culturally incurious.

    On the first point, consider how many times I've had the following exchange (and my name is English/white-bred!):

    Me: … and my last name is Pine. That's P-I-N-E, like the tree.

    The Moron: Klein? Jordan Klein?

    Me: (in my head) Have you ever head of a [expletive deleted] Klein tree!

    On the second point, I think people are generally disinterested when it comes to other cultures. You and I are different, being alumni of a certain diversity school. But most people, whatever their background, only care to know about their culture (if even) and just enough about other people's cultures to get by. It's like trying to explain to most people that there really is a difference between Japanese and Chinese people. Or getting them to understand that "Spanish" is not a catch-all description for people who speak Spanish; it really only applies to people from Spain.

    Tying these two things together: When presented with something that requires some effort and thought, people's lack of curiosity and intellectual laziness causes them to reach for whatever is mentally convenient and just go with that. As if getting just the first letter of your name right is somehow 'close enough.'

    When presented with this, you should do what I do: Nonchalantly and intentionally get the person's name wrong in return.

    Ron (aka The Moron): Well, nice meeting you Justin!

    Me: You too, Rick!

  2. Dude that's brilliant. I can't get over "Sanurya". When I was in 2nd grade my elementary school principal used to call me "Snaker." Keep in mind that my names is Shekhar (pronounced "shaker). I have no idea where the "n" came from. But regardless at least I wasn't confused for a weird indian singer. The winner and still champion: me

  3. That's funny. Better than my childhood experience of being associated with whatever brown guy the U.S. was having some international trouble with… i.e. "aren't you one of Muammar Qadafi's friends" or "tell your uncle , the ayahtollah to lay off" or "why does you dad Saddam have to be pestering us". Then of course there's the "your brother was just here" or "i know your brother" and you find out that the brother is some random brown guy, maybe not even an Indian, could be an iranian or a saudi.

    Too bad the guy couldn't sing. I don't personally watch the show but I guess if he was like the best guy on the show, that it wouldn't be so bad. If people were comparing you with Shahrukh Khan, well , that may not be so bad, unless of course you took it as they were implying you were some happy-go-lucky actor type, and you wanted to cast yourself more as a serious and ambitious energetic business professional. Probably a Verghese Kurien comparison would be more flattering in that case.

  4. Okay, but calling you Surjaya IS kind of funny. And for the record:

    A: I always knew how to pronounce your name.

    B. I think Frankie Suits thinks you actually ARE a contestant on American Idol now

  5. LOL! "Klein tree." Jordan, you hit the nail on the head and I went to a historically Black all-female college! I have one of the most popular American female names (starts with a "J", ends with a "fer") and it bugs the hell out of ME when I see how folks don't even try to pronounce another person's name correctly if it isn't Mary or Bob. What a total lack of respect. Perhaps I am sensitive to the subject because my last name is a little unusual and I tend to automatically spell it out for people (ALWAYS spell it out over the phone). Like you Jordan, you give the example and they come out with something that isn't even close! I usually get "Smith" and my last name doesn't even rhyme with it!

    Even worse to me is when people from other countries with long or "unusual" names will introduce themselves as "Mary" or "Bob"! I understand they must be frustrated having to repeat their name 20 times and dealing with numbnuts, but even with my ever-popular boring first name, I take pride in it and always introduce myself using my full first name. I remember meeting someone from India and pronouncing his name correctly. I took the 5 seconds to look at the letters in his name, said his name, and asked if I pronounced it correctly. He said "yes" and proceeded to tell me to call him "Bob". 🙁

    P.S. "Surya" is a great name!

Leave a Reply to JLS Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *