From Baby to Sonia


Even though I have one of the commonest names that has been adapted across many cultures and countries, I still get that one off friend who will pronounce it wrong.

Some common pronunciations of my once-lovely name are




People also ask me frequently if I’m spelling my name right. I mean seriously people? I know I have failed at much else in life but my Dad came up with this spelling so it has got to be right…. as close to right as it can be.

Having a cross cultural name has its own caveats, some of which I think you’ll be happy to know and hopefully will take enough heed to not name your own kids carelessly.

Muslims ask me at the mosque if I’m a Muslim. I want to ask them so badly why I would be spending time at the mosque on a weekend if I was a Hindu or a Christian or a Jew. I mean yes, the food is a good reason but I’m sure the temple has a good veggie spread and I’ve seen people coming out with ice creams and crab cakes after Sunday service from the church so food wise I wouldn’t be trading off too bad. If truth be told, I have eaten at places where I wasn’t formally invited. So it’s not like I have any moral principle about eating at religious places that I don’t belong to. I just quit that practice many years ago when the mosque started to focus on its lunch menu. Now it’s a win-win for me. But in response to what a Sonia is doing at the mosque I usually bite my tongue.

Hindus ask me if I’m a Hindu. When I politely say no they don’t believe me. Oh well! Not something I can clarify without unintentionally hurting people in the current political environment.

Christians, particularly European Christians, have tried to claim some ownership of my name too. One of my Italian friends suspects that my dad had an Italian girlfriend and I’ve been named Sonia in her memory. Sometimes I want to tell him that my Dad didn’t ever travel to Italy but then I save my breath. It’s probably a good thing on my social resume that people think my parents are world travelers who get so friendly with the locals that they have had a stray European child or two. 🙄

But what really is the bane of my existence is the long slew of songs, particularly Indian, that have the word Sonia strewn throughout the song. Popular numbers include a half-naked Kareena Kapoor and a leather-clad Hrithik Roshan in “You are my Sonia”.

Various Punjabi singers bring out their own rendering of this name. Some B grade movies have a Miss Sonia who is not just the hottest office secretary but also turns out to be a serial killer in the end.

Another downside of having a name as easy as Sonia is that it is naturally much easier or just as easy as Mama or Mommy. So my son, who is my youngest and a toddler and therefore enjoys a life of no particular routine or discipline thus far at my hands, has taken to calling me just Sonia. Imagine this one uncharted territory that he has discovered to create a relationship of equal fear and intimidation. Because he calls me Sonia, he thinks I’m just a larger version of his other daycare friends whom he calls by their first names like Matthew, Emily and Isaac.

But here’s the real gut punch. Because my dad always claimed that I was the favorite of all his kids and he had thought for many months what to name me before I was born, I always imagined a very sensational background to my mediocre name. This was the only saving grace of a name that I had never liked and that I shared with FOUR friends in elementary school. I was always told that while my younger siblings were more like accidental births (even though I was the biggest accident if truth be told) their names were never really decided many months in advance. Not only did it make me the uncontested queen of the pack, it also made my younger siblings feel very slighted which, if you have younger siblings, you know is the true glory and purpose of being the oldest child.

But this delusion had to shatter one day when my uber straightforward and tell-it-like-it-is mother told me that Sonia was actually the name of a woman of a very dubious character in a Bollywood movie. She told me that I was originally named Khush Bakht meaning Fortunate by my Dada. However, my dad couldn’t deal with this atrocity (in his mind. I love that name) and took the first name that he came across in a movie that he crash-watched that night (probably in search of an exotic name). My mom probably didn’t notice my mouth hanging open as she recounted this less-than-thrilling story. She went on to tell me how my parents didn’t even know the meaning of my name (ever truly appreciated how parents can make us feel so good about ourselves?), didn’t disclose the name for many days hoping for my Dada’s relatively sane idea to fizzle out (now she gets upset when we use ambush techniques on her), and chose to call me Baby the first few days. Which is a topic in its own self as to why a baby should never be called a baby unless you secretly hope to lose your baby and get any other baby who would respond to the name Baby and whom you would like to call your own more than your biological baby.

Parents! When you name your kids something, make sure you give them the right to change it later. Some cultures have a very casual attitude towards names. They change them whenever the fashion industry of names brings out its new array. Sometimes they change their last names too. Without asking their parents. I’m sure those people act in their best judgement and are usually unsure of their reported paternity. Those are probably the biggest victims and belong to the Murray Show. Those people deserve their own place in the Hall of Names.

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