New semester, new me! Yuck. We probably all know someone who fancifully proclaimed that they were going to reinvent themselves in college. I knew many, and I scoffed at all of them when they excitedly announced that they would be stepping into a new identity after graduation. “Why change?” I wondered. “How unhappy must you be with yourself right now,” I thought. “I could never alter the most fundamental aspects of my being.” 

Well…then I went off to college and changed my name, probably the most basic unit of identity and one of the least shakeable parts of a person’s self-concept. Or at least, I tried to change my name. And managed to…fail?

Let’s take a step back. When I was born, my parents decided that I would be Akhil, a Sanskrit term meaning whole or entire. In their words, I was their entire world…though maybe I was just the entirety of their annoyance. Regardless, I grew up as Akhil, attending predominantly white, high-performing public schools while also engaging with South Asian arts—connecting with my mom’s heritage through weekly dance classes and frequent visits to local cultural centers and events. Without my knowledge, two Akhils began to develop.

No, literally. At school, I was Akhil. uh-KEEL. Someone must have said my name this way when reading out a roll call sheet on the first day of kindergarten, and I just went with it. Perfect Sanskrit pronunciation was not something I cared about or understood as a five-year-old. So as long as I knew I was being referred to, I could not have cared less about the exact pronunciation of my name.

At dance class, however, I was Akhil. UH-kill. A subtle distinction but a marked one, the perfect intricacies of Sanskrit rolling right off the tongues of my various Indian immigrant dance teachers. And so two Akhils were born, and two Akhils persisted through the entirety of my life in California. I morphed from one person into another without thinking, implicitly donning new robes without the awareness of my continual outfit changes.

It was only recently that I fully realized this duality of identity. Granted, in my childhood, I was pretty much the same person regardless of how I pronounced my name in a given space. But introductions are big, and the fact that, by high school, I had implicitly learned to introduce myself differently, depending on who I was introducing myself to, was a bit of a revelation. This unconscious code switching suddenly became something I was aware of and something I could think about and question. But what could I do? “Changing” my name in either scenario would seem absurd, and I had solidified my place at school and in the South Asian community to a degree that even if I tried to change who I was, nothing would stick. And frankly, I did not care that much. I knew when I was being referred to, and that was all I needed.

But college was on the horizon! New semester, new me! Uh oh, was I turning into one of THOSE people? I arrived at Wesleyan unsure how I was going to introduce myself to my peers. Wesleyan is a PWI too, but I suddenly had a clean slate, a window into a world where I would no longer need to code switch. This became a central dilemma of mine over the summer, and my indecisive self resigned to just wait and see what came out of my mouth when I stepped on campus and met someone. Whatever I said first would be my name. 

UH-kill it was. Well, for a week. I decided, last minute, that it was time to honor the Sanskrit that my name was rooted in. I would speak my name with the nuances my grandmother taught me, and allow my peers to do the same. Until they didn’t. 

By week two, uh-KEEL was back! I can’t say I was upset, because I remained indifferent to the ways in which my name was pronounced (within reason). But the fact that this code-switched part of me continued to return, even if I did nothing to reproduce this version of me, is fascinating to me. Are non-Indian people programmed to see my name a certain way? Even when I introduce myself otherwise? Did I speak my identity inconsistently? No, that couldn’t be—I had spent too much time thinking about this to slip up. Who am I? What is my name? WHO AM I?

Okay, maybe too far. Relax Akhil, you are the same person you always were. After all, I knew when I was being referred to, and that was all I needed. Is that all I wanted though? With the fragmenting of my name came a sort of fragmentation and compartmentalization of my identity in high school. When I was uh-KEEL, I couldn’t be too Indian, I had to be smart, really smart and really funny and everything else I needed to be in order to retain dignity at a hyper-competitive public high school. When I was UH-kill, I had to be Indian enough, I had to fake my roots until I internalized little lies about my life to diminish the whiteness and ambiguity within me to be something that could be enough for the first gen kids, the real Indians, the immigrants, the people who looked down upon any sort of severance from one’s roots. So what was I at Wesleyan? 

I wanted to be Indian and mixed, connected but also free, in touch with my roots but also a thinker and a ponderer and a disruptor. I thought that UH-kill could give me that, but perhaps the coexistence of uh-KEEL and UH-kill is what has allowed me to embrace the many sides of my identity and their conflicts and conversations in college. Who knows. But imagining my name as a defining facet of my identity, when I have always thought that it was not, has allowed me to see the nature of my various selves differently. Realizing how I passed as American and passed as Indian via my continual renaming of myself showed me that perhaps my name was and is more than simply a way for me to know if I am being referred to. 

Perhaps identity is not as as internal as we are taught, but also a product of our surroundings. We are someone to ourselves, and we are someone different to our peers; Internally, I think I am UH-kill but to many, I know I’m uh-KEEL. And maybe that isn’t wrong, because maybe I am not everything, and my internal direction is not the be-all end-all of my identity. Get over yourself, Akhil, you aren’t the center of the world! (Actually, according to my name, I am the entirety of it. Take that.)

I will continue to be uh-KEEL and UH-kill, I will continue to rename myself, I will continue to be two and one at the same time. Maybe I am more for this, maybe I am less for this, maybe I am the same. But I have come to be grateful for my history with the treatment of my name and the questions it has allowed me to conjure and ponder.


Akhil Joondeph is a member of the class of 2026 and can be reached at

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