how I got my name

I have scores of cousins—most of them boys, all of them with names that end with “in:” Calvin, Franklin, Merlin, Alvin, Ervin, etc. Eventually my uncles ran out of names, so they made some up–They’d pick two consonants, add a vowel and slap on the “in.” So I have cousins totally embarrassed by their names. There’s Bilvin, Swithin, Wolwin.

The “in” cousins are the sons of five brothers on my mother’s side. The sisters opted for the exotic and distinctly different. There’s Melchizedek Prithviraj. And Suwarnakala-Priyadarshini-something-or-the-other–We just call her Kala. My brother is Falvo. And there’s me. I started out Fylvia Malliga Jocelyn Fowler.

I arrived exactly 9 months after the arranged marriage between my brilliant, nerdy, very serious, college graduate father and my absolutely gorgeous, outgoing, without-a high-school education mother. An odd pair, but a marriage made in heaven. Like all Indian men, my father wanted a boy. Like all Indian men, he just assumed that his virility and my mother’s beauty will produce an Adonis of a male heir.

But Dad got me. You have to know my father to sympathize with his predicament. He is organized, detailed, and plans his life 100 years in advance. He neither enjoys nor welcomes surprises. Flustered and without a clue, dad begins scrambling for a name. 1. Must go with Fowler. 2. Must be distinctly different. 3. Must have magical powers to turn girl into a boy. Nothing comes to him except “Sylvia.” Unable to handle the surprise of a baby girl, he gives in to the pressure: He picks “Sylvia,” drops the “S,” adds an “F” —Fylvia goes with Fowler and is definitely different. And Dad calls me Fyl (pronounced Phil.) My brother came six years later, but I’m still the firstborn “son.”

From then on, Dad’s taught me the lesson he learned the day I was born: You don’t always get what you want, but you can make the most of what you’re given.

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