This is the fifth post from our new column highlighting the voices and experiences of students of color on Brown’s campus. In this entry, Krishnanand Kelkar ’15 talks about the significance of his name. He has previously written about interracial dating as a part of this series. Though this will be the last entry in this column for the semester, we plan on continuing it in Fall 2014, so feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to be involved!
“That’s not my name,” is something I say often. I always have to correct people on my name—partly because I am a twin, but mostly because very few people here have heard my name before. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to correct teachers and professors calling roll, or how burdensome I feel when someone asks me for my email address (especially over the phone). My name is Krishnanand Kelkar, and I often go by “Kris,” because in the West it’s easier. But I love my full name, all 11 letters! My name has history—it means so much more to me than just a random string of sounds by which to call me.
Just after, you know, life, the second thing my parents gave me was my name. And the name Krishnanand in particular was special. I’m named after my uncle; my dad knew he wanted to give his first-born son the name Krishnanand to honor his brother since he was married. After 12 years and 3 daughters, my dad finally got his boy(s). Born on the same date as my uncle, it was more than fate that I ended up with this name. And, not to toot my own horn, it’s a beautiful name too. It’s uncommon in India because it’s a combination of the two more popular names, Krishna and Anand. Together, my name means the “Bliss of Krishna.” But more importantly, my dad’s name is Anand. My name manages to respect the familial love of the generation that came before me, but also incorporates a special respect for my own father.
This wasn’t an easy name to love. It’s long, and really hard to write in cursive (hello, 3rd grade struggles). And more often than not, when I tell people how to spell it, I get something addressed to “Krishnand” because they assumed the second “A-N” was just me repeating myself for clarity.
But beyond the day-to-day practicalities, my relationship to my name reflects my understanding of my cultural identity. After having gone to a Christian school for 13 years, growing up I wanted nothing more than to reflect what I saw around me. And being half Indian and half White made my White side hate my Indian features: my light brown skin, hairy legs and arms, big nose, and thick black hair. I tried so hard to get rid of them. I even remember being teased for having cut the hair off my arm with scissors when I was ten or so, before I even knew how to use a razor. Those features I couldn’t change, but I could go by Kris. Going by Kris meant so many assumed it was in reverence towards the Catholic Christ instead of the Hindu Krishna. Going by Kris represented the American dream my father and grandfather had for me when they immigrated to America. Going by Kris was asserting control over my identity in a world that racialized me. And so I did.
But, going by Kris didn’t cut it. I was still seen as an (half) Indian, and judged for it. I was tokenized, marginalized, and othered. Then it came to me: even though I changed the comprehensibility of my name, people still did not comprehend me as a person—in my entirety, inside and outside of my race. Without many examples of biracial East Indians, I couldn’t rely on anyone else’s interpretation of my brownness to define me. I looked within myself to find it.
And after 21 years of hating the name Krishnanand, I realized its beauty. It’s unique and it was given to me out of love. But most importantly, I came to this realization with an acceptance of myself, both the White and the Indian. I have learned to love my skin color, curly hair, and “characteristic” nose as representative of my unique heritage—an homage to both sides of my family. So, at the beginning of this school year, I decided to try and go by Krishnanand. But it’s not that easy. As if I were completely forsaking the history I already built up with my friends, I was nervous to ask that they start calling me by a different name. When I did ask, most welcomed the idea, but a few didn’t like it. They said it was a bother, too long, or confusing because when referring to me in conversation with others, people don’t know who Krishnanand is. Was my existence that easy to erase? Was Krishnanand really a different person than Kris? No, but it felt like it. Too scared to speak up and trouble people with trying to remember a name they otherwise would not have to commit to memory, I accumulate guilt that still makes me uncomfortable when I have to correct people on my name. So if you read this, please do call me Krishnanand.
But my name doesn’t end there. It’s fully Krishnanand Kelkar (and no, I do not have a middle name). Kelkar holds its own importance to me. Besides the fact that it rings nicely with literally every first name on the planet (try it!), my brother and I are the last male Kelkars in our extended family to pass on the name. I know it’s gendered to look to the males to carry on the family name, but that is a strong framework that I don’t see my sisters breaking. And if you met my brother, you would know he has no desire to have kids.
I, on the other hand, have known I have wanted to be a father since I was 10. As a gay man, I can’t tell you how my future husband and I will figure out our children’s names, but my name in its entirety is important to me. I want to pass on Kelkar—it’s important to me that I get to. And, I want to pass on an Indian given name along with it. My Indian name defined me—whether I was running away from, or trying to return back to it, Krishnanand Kelkar has been the metric by which I’m learning to accept my Indian heritage and ethnicity. It represents where I’m coming from, and for a long time I rejected that. It was hard for me to find pride in my Indian family history, and it may be hard for my future children as well. But, I hope they will know that by giving them my last name and an Indian name, I’m bestowing them with a gift. I stand stronger knowing that I worked to love the name held by generations of Konkanis before me. In this sense, I earned this name. It’s mine to give away. I love my family and love the prospects of my future children, and so for all of them I love my name.