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My name is Cahya (\cähyä\ or \cäh’ə\) and I haven’t met any foreign person who is able to pronounce it correctly on the first try.

My first encounter (so long as I can remember) with a foreigner is in my middle school in my English course. My then-teacher was an Australian. When the roll call started, he called out this alien name I think no one in the class bears: khaya (\ˈka’ə\). It took me seconds to realize that the bearer of the alien name was me. I corrected him and tell him the correct way to pronounce my name, and after some attempts he was finally able to pronounce my name  with a minor error: chahya (\chähyä\).

It felt funny at first, until I have several other teachers in that course from several different countries (Australia, Scotland, and the US) and realized that it was not an easy task to pronounce my name correctly. I was convinced by the event of when my Scottish teacher pronounced my name Khaya on the attempt of mimicking my pronouncing of my name and wrote my name as “Jahir” on the board when I once again tried to tell him the correct way of pronouncing my name.

My high school was a school whose teaching staffs are combination of different sorts of nationalities; Filipinos, Indonesians, Singaporean, Indian, Irish, and American. My hopes were high meeting the Asian teachers for the first time, as I thought Filipinos should have a more similar pronunciation with Indonesians. Additionally, Cahya comes from a Sanskrit name, hence I was quite confident that my Indian teacher would be able to pronounce it right in one go.

Apparently they didn’t.

None of them pronounce the middle “h” as clearly as Indonesians would pronounce. My Filipino teacher pronounced it chaya and my Indian teacher wrote my name Jhaya on the board. Of course the Irish and American teachers, having had a different tongue from Indonesians, were unable to do it. After an endless chain of mispronouncing events, I finally realized the importance of figuring out how to make my name more easily pronounced.

I thought and tried several combinations before I finalized the answer for the “sorry, how do you pronounce your name again?” question:

  • Cha as in Charlie and ya as in the enthusiastic, affirmative word (for Westerners)
  • Cha as in the Chinese word for tea (茶 or chá) and ya as in the affirmative word (for Chinese-speaking people (goes well with Japanese too))

As you may have noticed, I finally accept the pronunciation cha-ya instead of cah-ya. It is more hassle-free for them.

Now, being an exchange student from Indonesia (“is it the country with the weird-shaped islands?”;”the one that has Bali, right?”; “is your country a tropical country?”) in a university that has many European students, I have to think of a strategic answer to respond to the seemingly endless introduction dialogue. Keep in mind that I have to make my name easily pronounced and at the same time memorable. Upon answering these questions, I no longer say “Hi, my name is Cah-ya” but I directly say “Hi, my name is Cha-ya”. They even find the latter hard to pronounce, let alone memorable. (My flatmate, for instance, has just been told that for the last two weeks he pronounced my name incorrectly).

I am not writing this post to complain about my tricky name nor the people who keep on pronouncing it wrongly; as a matter of fact, I love my name! It’s a 12-letter-long single word: Cahyawardhani (imagine how they’d pronounce it) (oh wait some of them did; some gave up in the middle) coming from a strong Sanskrit-Indonesian background. Wardhani is a name commonly found in ancient royals in Indonesia and Cahya literally translates to “light” in Bahasa Indonesia. Although sometimes confusing in administrative papers due to the lack of first/given name (I lost count on how many times I said “well it is the only name” to officers), I find it quite enchanting. I find the complexity of my name’s pronunciation interesting, showing the degree of adaptation one must undertake in an alien environment such as an exchange. It shows how we must compensate mistakes brought upon by differences (such as mispronouncing names). I somewhat disagree on changing my name entirely (such as changing it to Cathy – because it has 4 out of 5 same letters with the actual name) just to make them remember me easily. My name is an integral part of me (duh) and I wish the most minor changes would be applied.

And so,

My name is Cahya, but please do pronounce it to the closest-sounding name you can easily pronounce.