My twin sister and I grew up hating our names. It is one thing that we have nearly identical names, saved for one different vowel. But what bothers us the most is our first name: Siti. It does not matter that it is taken from generic Arabic name, and that of Prophet Muhammad’s wives. But Siti, we feel, is too common, provincial, and used as a maid's character name in local soap operas.
I have to admit, when it comes to giving names, my father really sucks at it. If what people say is true, how the child’s name is the first manifestation of the parents’ love, could it be that he hates us? Probably not, but he did not seem to take it seriously. My mother did not bother, either. She just let my father be in charge of the names of five of us.
As a result, three of the children only have one name, while us the twins are “luckier” to have surnames. Even then, he was not being creative enough.
Yet, when we complained about our names, my father would just smile and say that our names were fine. He was bold enough to tell everyone that we are distinctively Sundanese since it is written as Parhana/i instead of the more common Farhani. He said that he initially wrote Siti Farhana/i when obtaining our birth certificates, but the government office staff said Sundanese infamously cannot pronounce F or V, so they changed it to P instead.
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In that sense, my father is not wrong. When I moved to Jakarta from my hometown of Garut, West Java, people would recognize me as a Sundanese right away when they knew my name. I mean, who else in Indonesia is struggling saying F? Even Google spell checker always corrected my name with an F.
I have always envied my friends for having their first name as their nickname, so they did not have to explain themselves what they would prefer to be called. It is rather exhausting having to tell people over and over that I would prefer to be called Hani to Siti.
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When Hana and I were in the same class in junior high school, our math teacher would call us “double Siti” when checking class attendance and everyone would stare at us and laugh. We stood out not only because we are twins, but also because we have the same first name. We were known as Siti twins at school. Gladly, some teachers called us with our preferred names.
For senior high school, we were determined to go to this top school in the city, one hour away from our home in the village. Here, students adopt more westernized names--Kevin, Monica, or Bella, and people would recognize us as countryside girls. Except for this one Siti, who was really pretty that nobody cared about her name.
It is still difficult to write my own name without thinking about the school bullies in high school, who turned out to still affect me to this day. The mean girls at our class would deliberately call me Siti with that smirk on their faces. But when it came to group assignment, they would always approach me, the quiet but diligent student who got all the tasks done.
When I was in college and started having peace with my name, I thought my struggle over my name would finally end, but of course it was not. The ex-girlfriend of my boyfriend is also another Siti, a fact that I resent very much. We studied in the same department, but in different classes, so our path luckily never crossed. Until we, the two Sitis, sat next to each other during our thesis defense. It was not a good feeling having your name below your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend in the list. Moreover, some of our friends did not let it slide and mocked us to death. I felt like changing my names right there and then.
Names are very important and personal, but not all parents are aware about it. It hurts me to find the news about babies going viral because of their peculiar names. For me, that kind of parents are selfish. Has it ever occurred to them that their children will get bullied because of their names? We put our names on everything. School assignment, email, social media, passport, driver license, even when we eat at the restaurant we need to put our names. It is something that we carry for the rest of our lives.
Recently, I asked my twin sister, if we have a chance to change our names, what would it be? She did not really think of a proper name yet but she said that at least the first name is the same as her nickname, Hana. We wish we had the courage to legally change our names back when we were teenagers. Now, I think it is too late. It would mean too much administrative work. The only thing we can do right now is to accept it.
If someday I decided to have a kid, I’m gonna give him/her a proper name. It doesn’t have to be Islamic or religious, but it has to have first, middle, and last name. So it will be easier for my kid to travel the world.