What’s in a name?

In a normal encounter with new people, I normally would start by saying “Hi, I’m Michelle, nice to meet you.” Bring it to a more international context and it would be followed by “I’m from Indonesia”. Usual business went on until one day someone responded like this: “so, what’s your Indonesian name?”

It was an odd question at the time. I never thought about my name as not Indonesian. I took it as the name that my parents gave and I go by that name for as long as I can remember. But I explained to them anyway. I explained that Michelle is my name and the only name I have ever had and the only name that people knows me by. There is no Indonesian version of it. That’s just it.

Then I met more people who kept asking the same question.

I realized that this name questioning only started to happen in the recent years, it always happened when I was abroad or when I met a foreigner. They all said the same thing: “your name doesn’t sound Indonesian.”

I get a mixed feeling towards this.

When I was little I asked my parents why they named me “Michelle”, because I was upset that my friends could never spell it the right way and it annoyed me sooooo much. To my childish little brain, it was my parents’ fault. I’d say “why would you give me a very difficult name to spell??? I hate it when my friends never get it right.” Of course as I grow up, I learned that it was a silly and stupid thing to say.

I like my name now, especially for the meaning and the story behind it.

But here is the thing with my name. Michelle is totally not an Indonesian name. The origin is Hebrew, and it is a French version of the word itself. I know this for sure because my dad thought that I was going to be a boy and he was going to name me after Michel Platini. When I popped out of my mom’s tummy and the doctor said “it’s a girl!”, he modified the name to its feminine version. Ergo “Michelle”.

I didn’t think that my name would raise such questions until I recalled the name of my friends and close circles one by one. I realized how my name is probably the most foreign of them all. It made me feel like I don’t perfectly fit somehow.

Anyway. I am not changing my name. I like it and I’m thankful that my parents gave me that name. It’s just… I find that people are very quick to judge. All they know is my name, but they think they know everything about me.

It’s bothering me.

To quote Shakespeare and to end this random rambling:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”



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