Change in Nom De Plume: “Arya H. Kalarathri” to “Arya H. Mariam”

It has been a while since I have posted. To that end, I can only apologize. Things have been tumultuous since the beginning of the summer. For one, I am becoming more socially involved outside of work, whether it be activism, trying to help my family out, or making poetry. There was an awesome poetry boot camp I was part of, where I was told I made some works I needed to keep near for possible publication. Speaking of which: I have a new nom de plume for now.

The use of this will continue until I have some official publications out and feel less need to keep some anonymity. It is not a discomfort with my previous pen name or my full, real-life name. If anything, it is a better embracing of my personal history, my former history as having been baptized as a Catholic, and honoring family before me who had the baptism name, Maria. Among other things (please see below).

There are several reasons I had made the decision to change my nom de plume to its current one. One, I felt like I was holding the name of the goddess Kalaratri hostage if I were to keep her beyond my recent subscription. While pennames involving goddesses is not particularly unusual or even inappropriate in the right situations, I already had a name that honored my transformation away from my more dogmatic Christian roots, Arya. Something about it also just made the name something I needed to change.

Before I made my blog, however, I had Arya as a name. It came from Persian language lessons I had in my undergraduate, held by one of my best friends, a Tamil who went by the name Devi. Per the tradition of her own mentor, she wanted me to adopt a name that was Persian for the purpose of the class. She was looking at names that were a less Christian equivalent to my birth name, and she had given me the name Arya (or Ariya).

The name grew on me over time and it felt more fitting than my birth name, a reflection of my personal growth. After reflecting on how I was not a dogmatic Catholic anymore, I had made the decision to adopt it in full. As it turns out, the name also happens to have origins in Indian, Hebrew, and Italian but with different meanings. I also had learned in my studies of Hinduism that it was a name associated with the goddess Durga and/or Saraswati. Japanese friends told me of how the name was a form of the Japanese Buddhist deity, Kanon, the equivalent of the entity Kuan/Guan Yin.

Later, I found out from an international student that it was a popular name in China, as well. Months after, it turned out to be a name in Cambodian (as “Ary”), Thai, and Indonesian. Irony did not evade me. Being a Eurasian who has been mistaken as over fifteen ethnicities (yeah, another was added to the list a few months ago), it turns out that the name chosen, despite all intentions, was just as ambiguous as my appearance. It was just as multiethnic as I was as a White and People-of-Color (POC) multiracial. Its popularity from Game of Thrones has only made me explaining the history for different reasons, recently! Often, I end up promising, in a joking, slightly self-deprecating manner how I had the name before the show became popular.

Now I come back to my personal history before the name change. The history prior to my name Arya, as well as for some of it after, I had like many others tried to prove my worth to society as a model minority. Not only was it easier due to being more white-adjacent than full-on POC (as many White-POC multiracials), but over time, I realized it was not working. Importantly, I learned how I was more at risk than ever of losing my ethnicity and ties to my grandmother’s culture because of the pressure to assimilate. Fortunately, many of my younger cousins I connected with during my most recent trip in California are starting to become aware of the risk. They became more conscious of it sooner than I did, their more ethnically distinct experiences playing no small part.

My shift from this toxic idea of the model minority has changed a lot, and overall for the better. While I find I must be much more careful about my privileges from colorism, as someone with overwhelming amounts of European blood, I also found my relationship with my family had changed for the better. Yes, there are times I have to struggle with relations who still live up to the ideas of a model minority. Some of these conversations can be painful when coming from people who have more power over me and more desire to assimilate than myself. Despite this, I also find myself being more mindful of my family’s culture. Hells, I even started to pick up a few words in Vietnamese, something I never thought possible before! This awareness, while looking for opportunities to help elevate the voices of my community, has done what Jonathan Fisk suggested it would do in his article on Mixed Tears: I feel at least a little less certain in claiming my ethnicity as a means to reject assimilation politics.

So, then, what is “Mariam” doing in my pen name, now? Why did I choose the nom de plume, really? Other than what I said about the previous relation I wanted to honor, it was either this, Mari, or Marian; all of which are alternate spellings of what my grandmother suggested was my baptism name. Yeah, I just gave a complicated bit of information there. Admittedly, there are conflicting stories about what my baptism name actually was, the conventions around the time of my birth being to adopt the name of a Catholic saint. Some have suggested my baptism name was something else, a not-so-saint-like name.

Nonetheless, I reflected on the origins of the name, a name having roots in Greek and Hebrew (Miriam) as well as Semitic languages, popularly used in all Abrahamic religions; Christianity, Islam, and Judaism and associated groups. Mariam as its spelling also happened to be popular in Spanish, Catalan, Armenian, Georgian, Arabic, Icelandic, and even at times in English. Some Asian countries also have it as a common name, likely from the influences of the Abrahamic religions (do not quote me on that; could be from other sources!). Regardless of whether this was my baptism name or not (humorously showing I was kind of a bad Catholic to start), I considered the meaning of the name. It was a name that was used in different forms, variations, and so forth across cultures, to mean “sea of sorrow,” “bitter,” “rose petal,” “beloved” (from Egyptian), et cetera. Some suggest it was possibly also deriven from a Hebrew word to mean “rebellion.”  I considered the implications of having this in my pen name. After a relation of mine said that I looked close to my mother (albeit more melanated), and had been suggested to have her “rebellious streak,” the decision was made. This would be part of my nom de plume.

This nom de plume, incidentally, also pays tribute to my history prior to my adoption of the name Arya — as someone who had and still struggles with “Catholic guilt.” I also struggle with other forms of culturally related guilt, but that is a given. The meaning of the names, to mean sea of sorrow or rebellion also rings true to both my history and my nature. I realize in order for me to break from my past, I must also acknowledge its part in making me who I am today. Ergo, for the time being, I will embrace the pen name of “Arya H. Mariam.”

Confused? That’s okay. I can sometimes be, too!


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