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'My Name Is Unpronounceable, The View's Attack on Nikki Haley Was Shameful'

I've been called a lot of names. Nachos. Nakama. NotYourMama. These were not mean-spirited but the inevitable result of having a thoroughly unfamiliar, unpronounceable name.

Nachama (also spelled Nechama) is a fairly common Hebrew name that means comfort. It derives from the same linguistic source as more-famous Hebrew names like Menachem and Nechemia (Nehemia in English).

I'm not complaining. I was named after my maternal grandmother; an incredible woman, who escaped the Nazis via Shanghai and built a new life for herself in America. I never met my grandmother, and my name holds a lot of emotional meaning.

And it's certainly a conversation starter. People often ask where it comes from and what it means. Another benefit: I don't have to give my last name when I introduce myself—like Beyonce or Madonna—because I know I'll be the only Nachama in the room.

Nikki Haley's Name Sparked Discussion on TV
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) speaks during a campaign event for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin (L) (R-VA) July 14, 2021 in McLean, Virginia. Win McNamee/Getty Images

But I understand the pronunciation landmine that plagues public figures like Nikki Haley—especially in this era where everything is grounds for a political attack.

The former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador—and I'm glad to say a client of mine—is a proud daughter of Indian immigrants. She references her upbringing in speeches and social media all the time. She talks openly about both the difficulties growing up as an outsider in this country, as well as the blessings America has offered her family.

None of that stops people on both the left and the right from attacking her for not using her first name, Nimrata. On September 20, The View's Sunny Hostin—who, ironically, does not go by her own birth name—attacked Haley for being "a chameleon" who shed her first name.

"There are some of us that can be chameleons and decide not to embrace our ethnicity," she said.

Meanwhile, racist trolls on the right often use "Nimrata" to try to paint Nikki as un-American. All of these people should have done their research. It turns out, "Nikki" is Nikki's given name. It is a Punjabi name meaning "little one" and is listed on her birth certificate. Nikki is the name she has gone by since she was a little girl—long before any political aspirations.

But even if it wasn't, even if she chose a nickname to make her life a little easier, I can't help but wonder: Who cares?

I work in a public role as a political spokesperson. My name has been in hundreds of articles. I spend a good portion of my life on the phone saying "N as in Nancy, A as in apple, C as in cookie, H as in hat, A as in apple, M as in Mary, A as in Apple."

Inevitably, the person on the other line says, "So that's two Ns and three As?" and we have to start all over again. Throw in my last name, and that's another 10 minutes of my life I'm never getting back.

To make matters worse, Nachama is not just unusual, it is actually quite difficult to pronounce. The "ch" in Hebrew and Yiddish is not found in English, and many people physically can't make that sound without sounding like they are coughing up a furball. The Jewish website Oy!Chicago explains that the "ch" uses a part of the mouth that is not normally used in daily American life: the uvula, or the little tab of skin at the back of one's tongue. To put it in simpler terms, the website describes the sound as a "backward snore."

At work, I go by "Nahama." It's not because I'm ashamed of my name, but because it makes my life easier and the lives of people around me easier. I simply don't have the time or energy to teach people how to snore backwards.

Names are funny. They can tell us a lot about a person or not much at all. In my case, my name tells you about my ancestors and my religion. My last name—which means "little nightingale" in Russian—tells you about my paternal ancestor's general geography.

Nachama Soloveichik goes by the name Nahama
Nachama Soloveichik (pictured) goes by the name "Nahama" at work, because it makes her life easier and the lives of people around her easier. Soloveichik believes the attacks on former governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, for using one of her given names rather than her first name, Nimrata, are shameful. Nachama Soloveichik

But names can also be deceptive. Soloveichiks as a clan, it turns out— from my family at least!—are rarely little and not very good singers. To the uninitiated, my name is a mystery. It doesn't reveal my gender—indeed I receive many letters addressed to Mr. Nachama Soloveichik. And it can be a barrier to people speaking to me for the first time. I can tell they don't want to insult me, but they have no idea how to say my name.

I have adopted a carefree attitude about the predictable awkwardness. I don't insist on people pronouncing my name correctly or get upset when they inevitably don't. If I did, I would be upset 80 percent of my life, and that seems like a poor life choice. I've been on radio shows where the host says "[Butchered version of my name], am I pronouncing it right?" I just smile and say, "close enough."

I've never experienced any discrimination because of my name that I'm aware of, but this much I know: Launching a political attack based on someone's name, whether it's Nikki Haley or Barack Obama, is petty and shameful. It preys on people's worst instincts and it can isolate and delegitimize. The purveyors of these attacks would do well to note, they tell us a lot more about the people lobbing the attacks than the intended target.

Nachama Soloveichik is a political consultant and partner at ColdSpark. You can follow her on Twitter @nachamasol

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.