My Name: I’m Probably Not What You Expected

I'm Probably Not What You Expected

Jennifer Johnson, Staff Writer

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It’s inevitable that if you’ve never met me, but know my name, you’ve created an image of what you think I look like in your head. You may imagine what I might be wearing, the color of my hair, what I might sound like, where I am from, and even the color of my skin. It’s crazy to think that so many assumptions can be made by just a name. There is an entire picture in your head of me that I have no control over.

Recently, all of this presented itself to me in the form of my MVA driving test.

I had just finished taking my driving test at the MVA, patiently waiting for the examiner to tell me I had passed, so I could collect my license and go about my day. As we sat there, he lifted his gaze from the tablet in his hand. Instead of saying “Congrats, you passed!” he curiously asked me where I was originally from. My hands fell from the wheel into my lap. I took a deep breath, and I told him that my family came from India.

I watched the already confused look on his face grow even more confused. He looked back at the tablet and then asked “Jennifer Johnson. Where’d you get that from?” I wasn’t alien to the question; I’d heard it many times before, but I just wondered why he felt the need to ask this to someone he’d probably never see again. I told him that I was born in America, and my parents just liked the name Jennifer, so they chose it. He shrugged his shoulders didn’t question me any further, which was good because I didn’t have any other way to explain it.

Eventually, he did tell me that I passed, and I got out of the car and started walking into the building.

I still think about what or who he was expecting to see before he saw me or my father that day when he first read my name on the appointment list. I wish I could’ve asked him who he expected to stand up when he called, just to be able to even attempt to visualize the picture my name paints of me, before I can paint my own.

I still am sometimes envious of the beautiful traditional names some girls have, but I remember that there is so much more to people than his or her name. While I do understand why one would be surprised as to why my name is what it is, I don’t understand why someone I had never met felt the need to make judgements on my race or ethnicity. I’m not trying to call out my driving examiner, but I am acknowledging how many times I have been looked at strangely after people finally match my name to my face. Whether it’s a new teacher, a substitute, or even new people that I meet, they wonder where I am from and how my name came to be.

One thing I have noticed is that a person’s first guess about my ethnicity is usually right, but they never say it. Sometimes people are too nervous to even tell me what their guess is. That’s how much power my name holds. My name makes people doubt themselves, but it’s strange that I begin to doubt myself as well. I used to feel that I couldn’t be too Indian outside the house, or too American inside because it confuses everyone else even more. If I don’t wear traditional clothes, or don’t have the stereotypically strict parents, I’m white-washed or too white.

It took time to understand. Yet, I now know where I come from, and although my name doesn’t necessarily match my ethnicity in many people’s eyes, my name, my skin color, or the way I look does not define me as an Asian-Indian. It doesn’t define me at all. Nobody should make me or anybody else feel that they are more or less a part of their culture just because they don’t look a certain way or have a certain name.

I have learned to ignore the doubt and embrace my name, fully enjoying the surprise I see in people’s faces when they don’t get what they expected. I anticipate the looks and the questions for the rest of my life, but I am proud of the name my parents gave me. I will never try or try not to act more or less American than I am just because my name is American.

You don’t have to fit into an ethnicity or race, but be proud of where you come from, and be thankful for your name. Your name is your first impression, but it is never your last.

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