What’s In My Name

For most people, their name is very central to who they are. We associate our names with our personalities; they are integral to who we are, how we see ourselves, how others see us and how we think others see us. You can discern things from people’s name. My name tells you that I’m Indian, or of Indian decent. If you know anything about India, you may also notice that Navtej is a Hindu name. It is neither a common nor uncommon name.

My last name, Kohli, is far more common and I share if with a fair few famous faces. Kohli is seen quite regularly in various Western countries: Whitepages.com lists 251 instances of the name Kohli in five different U.S. states. While it’s not likely that I’m directly related to those Kohlis, it’s possible.

However, despite my full name being Navtej, I am always referred to as Tej. Nicknames are strange like this. For some reason, Tej Kohli is a perfectly acceptable abbreviation of my name; why not “Nav”? What about this variation on my name seems strange?

Sometimes, you’ll notice people abbreviating names in unusual ways. Christopher is sometimes shortened to Topher instead of Chris. Reba instead of Becca. Often, these non-traditional abbreviations are frowned upon or scoffed at, but it is only common usage that dictates we should refer to Alexandras as Alex, not Zandra.

Our names say more about us than where we are from. They say something about when we were born and into which social class. You’d be hard pressed to find a newborn nowadays called Myrtle, even though there is nothing stopping modern parents naming their baby daughters old-fashioned names. Will currently popular names such as Ashley, Matthew, Jessica and Andrew one day sound antiquated and as if they should belong to our grandparents?

Stephen Dubner wrote about how names denote social status in his 2005 best-seller Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. Dubner provided lists of names associated with different social classes.

Strange spellings often suggest a lower social class and status, even though that is not necessarily true. It’s probably not even remotely true. That “Navtej” ends in a “j” somewhat denotes my ethnicity in the same way that names ending in “io” or “ia” (Alessandria; Emilio) usually suggests that the person is Italian or that a name that ends in “elle” is probably French.

May it be Navtej, Nav Tej or Tej, we’re tied to our names in the same way as we’re attached to our faces. They imply things about us, whether we like it or not. Personally, I like my name. I don’t appear to share it with many people, and it tells people a lot about me without my having to explain my heritage. What does your name say about you?


  1. I don’t think Navtej is particularly a Hindu name. “Nav” and “Tej” respectively refer to “new” and “aura”. However, after stating that I dont want you to link that to sanskrit and ultimately being a Hindu name. Lots of Indian languages have borrowed from Sanskit and it doesn’t necessarily implies being Hindu. Also I have a few friends who call me Nav, some call me teja however no one call me tej 🙂

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