For many reasons it’s a joy to spend an extended period of time in this country that I love – not least of which includes the fact that people know how to pronounce my name. Although I wasn’t born in Israel, my given name is tethered to this land: עמית. Amit is a Hebrew name which means friend or colleague.
In my youth and until the recent past, I knew of Amit as a name reserved exclusively for boys/men – or as a surname. One look at Wikipedia (the Hebrew version of) and my theory is confirmed; a male-gendered name. I know quite a few boys and men named Amit, most of them residing in Israel; a cousin, family friend I knew long ago, someone I met at a festival. And I was once friends with a woman whose surname was my first.
When I stand in line at the local Cofix, where everyone knows your name (because they call you when your order’s ready), mine blends in seamlessly with the others; Ronit, Galit, Shlomit, Orit, Karnit, Drorit, Nurit.. and those are just the ones that rhyme!
But the ease with which people recognize and pronounce my name wherever I go is such a sweet feeling; it provides a sense of acceptance and belonging … especially compared to where I grew up. Even if, on my daily walks in this neighborhood, I hear someone call my name, I turn around and see that another Amit (unusually, a woman!) was summoned; or even if the man at the kiosk tells me that there are different spellings of my name.
In Canada, my name has not only been mispronounced; it’s also been twisted, tweaked, torque and butchered. Made fun of. Questioned. Dismissed. I used to dream of being called Amy. Or Susan. Or Debbie. Anything that helped me blend in…
Then I went to Nepal. And there too, I felt blessed to have my not-particularly-Canadian name. अमित. I learned that Amit was a popular name, for Nepalis and Indians alike – say, renowned author Amit Chaudhuri… I also learned that, in Nepali, Hindi and Sanskrit, it meant eternal or infinite, as well as an eternal friend of everyone. I was pleased, comforted, intrigued. Until I learned that, as in Hebrew, in Sanskrit and Hindi it’s also a boy’s name. Then I was called on it…
A shopkeeper in Pokhara asked me my name, and when I told him, his eyes lit up. No, I don’t believe you, he said. I laughed and said, but it is, I promise you! But you’re not Nepali, he replied, shaking his head, disbelief still stamped across his face. Show me your passport, he countered. I pulled it out, opened it to the first page, and presented it to him. His face softened and, as he shook his face, he asked: How is that possible? How do you have a Nepali name?
I’ve often reflected on that interaction many years ago in Nepal, wondering how I could have been given a name that is, at once, Hebrew and simultaneously Sanskrit. How could my parents have ever imagined that I, of their three offspring, would one day feel drawn to travel and live in Asia (as well as Israel); feel in many ways more ‘at home’ in those countries and continents than the place I was born? I’m sure they had no clue.. but in so many ways, the writing was on the wall.
There’s a connection, an identity that is forged at birth, through one’s name. By virtue of travel or living in a country where one’s name is foreign-sounding, the ties to our name can loosen, leading us to feel, in inexplicable ways, unanchored. Over the years, I learned to accept my name, then to appreciate it, weave it into my identity – wherever I may travel and live – and co-exist harmoniously with it, wherever my home may be.
Where does your name feel most at home?