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Photo by Kendall Marianacci, Nepal Semester.

What’s in a Name?

A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet? That’s what I’m told, but I’d beg to differ. The most major change I have felt in the past few days is a shifting of how I function in relation to the family around me, and this has almost all to do with my name. I no loner feel a compulsion to isolate myself in my foreignness, and it’s finally not uncomfortable to follow my family around everywhere, to speak a clearly misunderstood Nepali phrase, or to make jokes and dance around. I know, I know- a name is just a frivolous label, it’s just a word, all words are just social constructs anyway, everything is inherently meaningless, etc, etc. That’s certainly how I thought about names until very recently.
“Who cares if I spell it Liza or Lyza? I don’t mind when people call me ‘Lisa’ or ‘Leeza’ or ‘Lizzy’ or ‘Lise” because it’s just a word, and I understand the meaning. Why don’t we all just refer to each other as ‘humanoid’? That is what we are, after all.” As is evident, my opinion about names was generally that they do not need to define our identities and may have relatively little significance.
Why did it irk me and feel so, you know, bad when my Kathmandu host mother, Gita-Ji (NOT “Aamaa”) had to ask Giannina (host bahini) what my name was everytime she needed to bark a question at me? And whay did it make me feel so warm and fuzzy when we introduced ourselves to the porters on the first day of trek and Pasang-dai immediately made fun of me by whispering cheekily, “Mero naam Lyza ho,” because I spoke too quietly? Clearly I do place more importance on a name than I have convinced myself I do.
Here in Chokati, I was (finally! EKDAM exciting) given a Nepali name- Anjali. And to be quite honest, I have felt like a completely different, and much more accepted, person because of it. And that’s not to say by any means that I act differently, but there is a sense of community and pariwaar around me that I had definitely not experienced during urban homestay; my function in the family is different, thus I am changed in how everyone perceives me. My Aamaa calls me “Anjali,” bahini calls me “Anjali-didi,” and I feel genuinely welcomed. Maybe it isn’t exactly the name- maybe it’s because within an hour of being in the village, I was given a huge pile of dishes to wash, maybe it’s the way all the neighboring kids try to braid my hair everyday, or maybe it’s the amount of massive logs I’ve been allowed to carry around- but, on the other hand, maybe it is the way Hajuraamaa smiles and calls me “chori” after all. Why is that?
Recently, I’ve been feeling very trapped in my gender presentation and the way my gender is perceived here in Nepal. I understand how I am perceived in spaces- as woman- and I understand the necessity to act according to the deep-rooted and traditional ways of performing and respecting the cultural gender roles and rules. Yet, it still causes me to experience much dysphoria every time I am referred to within the group as “girl,” “woman,” “ma’am’” or (just sometimes) “she.” I have felt as though all the internal conversation and turmoil and argument and confusion and discomfort that has led me to conclude that I cannot quite adhere a label to my gender identity has no place here. And, honestly, it doesn’t. But I did know that coming in, and I tried as best as I could to prepare myself for it, but even so, I have been struggling to separate my personal gender-confused/queer identity from the way I am perceived here and how that impacts how I must present myself.
So all this considered, why do I feel so comfortable with my family in Chokati even when I am called such inherently gendered names like “didi”, “chori”, and “bahini”? Why can Anjali be perfectly comfortable being a sister, a daughter, a girl, but Lyza cannot seem to put their personal emotional qualms aside here? I don’t think it has much to do with the words themselves at all. I think there is something about having this Nepali name, about being treated like a family member, and being explicitly referred to as a family member that transcends the words themselves, connotations included, and allows me to experience an entirely new realm of being immersed in Nepali culture that I have yet to find until now.
So I suppose the conclusion I am forced to reach here is that I both do and do not place a major meaning and importance on names, however frivolous and arbitrary they may be. After all, it took my homestay aamaa approximately 10 seconds to assign the name “Anjali,” but those 10 seconds made a world of difference in my family’s ability to easily understand and pronounce my name. Once again, I am not so sure of how to answer the question I am exploring, but I suppose that is what forces me to keep asking. For now, I’ll just ponder while I peel alu with a giant scythe and watch my neighbors pull the intestines out of a recently dead buffalo (which I should add, was one of the most shocking and rattling things for a vegan to happen to stumble upon), and you know what? For once, I think I am okay with being lost in my own identity for once, because at least I’m lost in a brilliantly green corn field, surrounded by hills and screaming children, in what is quite possibly the most beautiful community in existence.