“My name is unpronounceable, The View’s attack on Nikki Haley was shameful”

I have been called many names. Nachos. Nakama. Not your mom. These were not petty but the inevitable result of having an utterly unfamiliar and unpronounceable name.

Nachama (also spelled Nechama) is a fairly common Hebrew name meaning comfort. It derives from the same linguistic source as more famous Hebrew names like Menachem and Nechemia (Nehemia in English).

I am not complaining. I was named after my maternal grandmother; an incredible woman, who escaped the Nazis via Shanghai and built a new life in America. I never met my grandmother and my name has a lot of emotional meaning.

And it’s certainly a topic of conversation. People often ask where it came from and what it means. Another advantage: I don’t have to give my last name when I introduce myself, like Beyonce or Madonna, because I know that I will be the only Nachama in the room.

Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC) speaks during a campaign event for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin (L) (R-VA) on July 14, 2021 in McLean , Virginia.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

But I understand the pronunciation landmine that afflicts public figures like Nikki Haley, especially in this age when everything is politically under attack.

The former governor of South Carolina and ambassador to the UN — and I’m happy to say she’s a client of mine — is the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. She constantly references her upbringing in speeches and social media. She talks openly about the challenges of growing up as a foreigner in this country, as well as the blessings America has given her family.

None of this stops people left and right from attacking him for not using his first name, Nimrata. September 20, ViewSunny Hostin – who ironically doesn’t go by her own birth name – accused Haley of being “a chameleon” who lost her first name.

“Some of us can be chameleons and decide not to embrace our ethnicity,” she said.

Meanwhile, right-wing racist trolls often use “Nimrata” to try to portray Nikki as un-American. All these people should have done their research. Turns out “Nikki” is Nikki’s first name. It is a Punjabi name which means “little” and is listed on his birth certificate. Nikki is the name she has had since she was little, long before any political aspiration.

But even if it wasn’t, even if she chose a nickname to make her life a little easier, I can’t help but wonder: Who cares?

I work in a public role as a political spokesperson. My name has been in hundreds of articles. I spend a good part of my life on the phone saying “N for Nancy, A for apple, C for cookie, H for hat, A for apple, M for Mary, A for apple”.

Inevitably, the person on the other end of the line says, “So that’s two N’s and three A’s?” and you have to start all over again. Add my last name, and that’s another 10 minutes of my life that I’ll never go back to.

To make matters worse, Nachama is not only unusual, it’s actually quite difficult to pronounce. The “ch” in Hebrew and Yiddish is not found in English, and many people physically cannot make this sound without sounding like they’re coughing up a hairball. The Jewish site Oy!Chicago explains that the “ch” uses a part of the mouth not normally used in everyday American life: the uvula, or the small tab of skin at the back of the tongue. To put it in simpler terms, the website describes the sound as “reverse humming”.

At work, my name is “Nahama”. It’s not because I’m ashamed of my name, but because it makes life easier for me and the people around me. I just don’t have the time or the energy to teach people how to snore upside down.

The names are funny. They can tell us a lot about a person or not much at all. In my case, my name tells you about my ancestors and my religion. My last name, which means “little nightingale” in Russian, tells you about the general geography of my paternal ancestor.

Nachama Soloveichik is called Nahama
Nahama Soloveichik (pictured) calls herself ‘Nahama’ at work because it makes life easier for her and those around her. Soloveichik thinks the attacks on former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley for using one of her first names rather than her first name, Nimrata, are shameful.
Nachama Soloveichik

But names can also be misleading. The Soloveichiks as a clan, it turns out – of my family at least! – are rarely small and not very good singers. For the uninitiated, my name is a mystery. It does not reveal my gender – in fact, I receive many letters addressed to Mr. Nachama Soloveichik. And that can be an obstacle for people talking to me for the first time. I can tell they don’t want to insult me, but they don’t know how to say my name.

I adopted a carefree attitude in the face of the foreseeable awkwardness. I don’t insist that people pronounce my name correctly or get upset when they inevitably don’t. If I did, I’d be upset 80% of my life, and that seems like a bad life choice. I’ve been on radio shows where the host says “[Butchered version of my name]am I pronouncing it correctly?” I just smile and say “close enough”.

I’ve never been discriminated against because of my name, but what I do know: launching a political attack based on someone’s name, whether it’s Nikki Haley or Barack Obama, is petty and shameful. It feeds on people’s worst instincts and can isolate and delegitimize. The purveyors of these attacks would do well to note that they tell us much more about the people launching the attacks than about the intended target.

Nachama Soloveichik is a political consultant and partner at ColdSpark. You can follow her on Twitter @nachamasol

All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button