Comics Maz Jobrani and Aparna Nancherla On Their 'Difficult' Names: Episode 12

Aug 10, 2016
Originally published on August 10, 2016 11:16 am

Aparna Nancherla and Maz Jobrani are both well-known comedians, and they're both used to people totally butchering their names.

For Jobrani, who's Iranian-American and based in Los Angeles, the a in his first name, which sounds like Mazda, often comes out like more like has, or maze. His last name becomes jabroni, which is actually a real word, a slangy wrestling term for insulting one's opponent popularized by The Rock.

As for Nancherla, who's a New York-based standup comic and Indian-American, it happens "pretty frequently," more often with her last name. "I get Nancheria a lot. People want to make it an i. I don't know why."

Both are sure people who mess up their names aren't trying to be jerks; mispronouncing a name you've never heard or seen before is totally understandable. They each have a litany of helpful hints. When meeting someone new, Nancherla might say, "'It's like a nanny in a chair singing la.' I don't know if that's useful to anyone."

Jobrani tells people his last name sounds like "the name Joe, and bra, and knee. That doesn't always work either." As for his first name — which is short for Maziar — he says, "I find an opportunity to tell them a story where I say, 'You know, when I was a kid, my dad used to say, "Listen, Maz, what you need to do is..."

And if that fails? "So then I gotta come back and find a moment when I don't sound too jerky to go, 'Listen man, not a big deal, but it's actually pronounced 'Maz.' Then I go through the whole thing: 'It's like Mazda, Mazatlan, Maserati, Lamaze..."

As someone with my own "difficult" name, I called these two up for this week's Code Switch podcast episode, to see how they navigate their careers and personal lives with names that regularly inspire mild panic.

(I've got my own schtick when meeting someone new: "Hi, I'm Tasneem. Tuss-neem. Rhymes with bus. Or like Robitussin. And neem rhymes with dream." It usually doesn't work, and that's why, over the course of a day, I'm likely to answer to Jasmine, Janine, Tazneem, Taasneem, Tamseen, or, my absolute least favorite, Taz.)

Of all the variants of "Maz" that he's heard over the years, Jobrani says the mispronunciation that really elicits the "fingernails on chalkboard" annoyance for him is the one that rhymes with has (or Taz!). "It's so American. I'm like, 'Travel the world! Put an 'ah' in there!'"

Jobrani's son is named Dhara, a Persian name that's often spelled Dara. He and his wife intentionally added an "h" in hopes that his teachers would see it and realize it doesn't rhyme with, say, Farrah Fawcett's first name.

But they didn't anticipate other kids in preschool calling him Dora, as in Dora the Explorer. "They weren't trying to be mean, they just knew Dora. And I was like, oh no, we didn't think of Dora!"

For Nancherla, the worst was maybe her middle school summer camp, when another camper misheard her during a round of introductions. "They were like, Aporna? Like porn. And then that stuck. And I was like, you got it wrong, why do you get to choose the nickname?!"

I was curious as to whether Nancherla and Jobrani consistently insist that people get it right, or sometimes just let it slide. Because for a long time, I just didn't bother. On some level, I felt that the fault was mine, for having an unreasonable name to begin with. And if a professional colleague were to mispronounce my name, or someone interviewing me for a job, forget it. As a young brown woman trying to get a foothold in the overwhelmingly white and male journalism industry, the last thing I wanted was to be seen as "difficult" or "militant" or "demanding."

Nancherla says that when other folks in the comedy scene mess up her name, it can feel harder to correct them. "If I'm meeting someone who's higher status than me, or that I'm intimidated by, it's hard to be like, 'Actually, you say my name like this.' It feels like I'm making them look back. Which is crazy because it's your name and you shouldn't feel bad about how your name is pronounced."

Jobrani may have the butchered-name story to top them all: "At my wedding, the priest messed up my name." He and his wife got married in Mexico, and while they'd make a point of going over his last name with the priest performing the ceremony, they didn't think his first name would pose a problem.

"He started, and he's like, we're here to bring together Maak and Preetha.' Everyone in the wedding looked at each other, and I just kind of smiled. He went on and on. 'So, when Maak first met Preetha...' And finally my mom was like, 'It's Maz!'"

There's some evidence that this stuff has real-world consequences beyond the personal annoyance factor. A 2014 study published in PLoS ONE found that people are less likely to trust you if they find your name hard to pronounce, and other studies have shown that immigrants in America who "Americanized" their names went on to do better in the job market and earn more money than those who didn't.

As Matti Voure, who's an immigrant himself, wrote in Scientific American, "So, you are trying to decide whether to hire Chen Meina, or Shobha Bhattacharya. If you find yourself favoring one over the other, with no information to support your intuition — or feeling of 'truthiness' — these studies suggest that one reason for your preference is that you simply find this name easier to pronounce."

I'm not pretending to have a spotless record here. I've undoubtedly mangled plenty of "difficult" names over the years. But now, I make a point of asking new acquaintances with unfamiliar names whether I'm saying their name correctly. I try to do it right away, while the handshake is still warm. If they become a friend, I might casually check in at some point down the road, and ask if I'm still doing okay. In some cases, I'll discreetly correct other folks, too, if I'm reasonably sure the name-bearer wouldn't mind my bringing it up. If I suspect they'd rather I just left it alone, I leave it alone.

Like everything else we talk about at Code Switch, there are no hard and fast rules here. Some people with "difficult" names don't mind, or even notice, when others mangle their names. Others switch back and forth over the years, or between people, so they might have one name at home and another at work, and they're totally cool with that — or at least resigned.

As for Jobrani and Nancherla, I wanted to know whether, if they could go back in time and be there at the moment their parents were picking their names, they'd suggest something "easier," more familiar or immediately accessible to people outside their own culture. Their answers were pretty great — and you should go check out this week's episode to hear what they said.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit


Thanks for listening to CODE SWITCH. This week is a great time to check out Planet Money. The team over there has gone into the oil business. Over the next two weeks, Planet Money is buying crude oil straight from the source and following it all the way to your gas tank. In classic Planet-Money style, they are demystifying the ordinary systems of our economy with humor. What happens when you try to pay cash for 100 barrels of oil? Find out on Planet Money this week and next on NPR One. Find NPR O-N-E on your app store.


DEMBY: What's good, y'all? This is CODE SWITCH from NPR. I'm Gene Demby, and I'm here with CODE SWITCH editor Tasneem Raja.


DEMBY: So, Tasneem, when we first met, you had this whole schtick in how you introduced yourself to us.

RAJA: Yeah, so I probably said something like, hi, I'm Tasneem. Tasneem rhymes with bus or tus (ph) like Robitussin. And I guess it worked because you are one of a very small number of people who usually gets it right.

DEMBY: Usually.

RAJA: Usually.

DEMBY: I've been trying. I've been trying. We should just say real quick that your name is spelled T-A-S-N-E-E-M.

RAJA: Yep.

DEMBY: So, all right, do you always have to do that little stick when you introduce yourself to people?

RAJA: I didn't used to, but that's before it really started bothering me that people were mispronouncing my name all the time. Like, even close friends were doing it?

DEMBY: Like, what - what were people saying?

RAJA: All right, well, OK, let's just go through this. Tazneem (ph), Tassneem (ph), Tamseen (ph), Tuzneem (ph). A couple people called me Tammy, except, like, it was, like, Tiamy (ph).

DEMBY: Tiamy.

RAJA: Like, Tiam (ph) because we're from...

DEMBY: Because we're from Philly, yeah.

RAJA: ...The Philly area.

DEMBY: That's - yeah, Tiamy.

RAJA: Yeah, southeastern Pennsylvania. So, OK, the worst, though, was during that whole "Looney Tunes" hip-hop thing, where, like, everyone's wearing those T-shirts.

DEMBY: Lord.

RAJA: (Laughter). Like, Daffy Duck and the Tasmanian Devil standing around with, like, their arms crossed.

DEMBY: B-boy stance.

RAJA: And that was terrible - and the pants. And that was terrible because now everyone's like, oh, great; we're just going to call you Taz, like Tasmanian Devil. That's your new name now, is Taz. Isn't that great? And actually, it was really confusing because my brother's name is Murtaza (ph), but everyone always called him Mortazza (ph).

DEMBY: Mortazza.

RAJA: But then his friends called him Taz. And so then, when he got to the same school, it was actually very confusing because now...

DEMBY: You were Taz.

RAJA: ...Everybody's going around just calling both of us Taz, so the teachers did not like that. Oh, and then my little brother, I should mention, my poor little brother's name is Mustafa (ph), but then "Lion King" came out, so then he became Mufasa for a very long time.

DEMBY: (Laughter). Oh, my God. So would you - would you try to correct people? Like, would you try to get them to say your actual name?

RAJA: No, actually, for a long time I didn't.

DEMBY: Buy why not? I mean, it's your name.

RAJA: I used to feel apologetic about it. I felt like my name was unreasonable, like it was, like, an imposition. And I didn't really feel like I could expect people to say it correctly.

DEMBY: An imposition for whom, though? Like, I mean...

RAJA: Yeah, I know. I mean, I didn't choose my name, you know? This is just the name I have. But I can't pinpoint exactly when it started changing - maybe when I moved to Oakland and, you know, got more militant about everything. But at some point, I did start making it a point to correct people or, you know, preemptively try to get them to say it right, which is, you know, the phase I was in when I met you and the rest of the CODE SWITCH folks.

DEMBY: But it's your name, right? So, I mean, that's a thing that people who care about you should care about saying correctly, right?

RAJA: Yeah.

DEMBY: I mean...

RAJA: I feel that way now. For a long time, though, I worried that it was going to make close friends feel bad because they had known me for so long, and the whole time they had been saying my name wrong. That's a weird thing.

DEMBY: Like, y'all are years in the game at this point, yeah.

RAJA: Yeah, and then you've got to go to them and just basically be like...

DEMBY: So about that.

RAJA: Yeah, you've been saying my name wrong. Like, that's - that is, like, a fundamental building block of identity. And I guess I worried more about their feelings than me having to hear people say, like, Tazneem everyday, which, like, literally makes my skin crawl.

DEMBY: But then you assume all of the...

RAJA: Yeah.

DEMBY: The agony.

RAJA: Yeah. No, I know. I think it's a - it's a really weird feeling. On the one hand, it's so simple. It's just a name. On the other hand, it felt so complicated. I was curious to see if other people go through a phase like that, where they just kind of feel like they have to roll with it, whether they like it or not. So I - actually I called up a couple of other people...


RAJA: ...With, quote, unquote, "difficult names" to see how - how they handle it.

DEMBY: All right, let's hear it.

RAJA: So they're both well-known comedians and writers. And, like me, they're from immigrant families. I don't want to butcher their names, so I went ahead and asked them to introduce themselves.

APARNA NANCHERLA: Hi, I'm Aparna Nancherla, and I'm a comedian and writer based in New York City.

MAZ JOBRANI: Hi, I'm Maz Jobrani, and I'm a comedian and actor out of LA.

RAJA: All right, so I want to make sure I'm getting your names right. So Aparna?


RAJA: All right. And Maz?


RAJA: So Aparna, do people tend to butcher your name?

NANCHERLA: Yeah, I would say pretty frequently. More my last name than my first name, but I feel like people sometimes will feel tentative with both. My last name, it's interesting. It's Nancherla, but I get Nancherria (ph) a lot. I don't - like, people really want to make it an I. I don't know why.

RAJA: Maz, what about you?

JOBRANI: Yeah, both as well. You know, my full name is Maziyar, but people mess up Maz. They say Mazz (ph) a lot. Even Iranians - I'm Iranian-Americans - I would think that they would know that it's short for Maziyar, but they say Mazz because there's another Persian name that's Mazdak (ph) - Mazdak. So I think that they think I might be Mazdak, but I'm not. So I get Mazz. I've had Maze (ph). I've had things like that. The last name, I get - instead of Jobrani, I get Jabroni (ph).


JOBRANI: Yeah, which is, like, a wrestling term.

RAJA: Right.

JOBRANI: So, yeah, I get - I get it all.

RAJA: Now, do you guys say your names the way that your parents or your grandparents would say your name?

NANCHERLA: No, I think I have a Western pronunciation and then the actual way it's said. So it's, like, I tell people it's, like, Aparna or Aperna (ph), but it's actually Apuhrna (ph). And I feel like no one can hear that. Like, if you tell a lot of English speakers that, they are just, like, I don't - it sounds the same to me.

RAJA: Right.

JOBRANI: Well, my grandparents would probably call me Maziyar, which is my full name. And I have friends from childhood that still - would still call me Maziyar. And my dad would have called me Maziyar before he passed away. But my mom - it's interesting because my mom should call me Maziyar, but sometimes she calls Maz, and that kind of makes me feel weird. I'm like, you're my mother.

RAJA: Right (laughter).

JOBRANI: Call me Maziyar.

RAJA: Yeah, totally.


RAJA: Do you feel like your names are hard to say? Like, is it surprising to you when people get them, like, really hilariously wrong?

NANCHERLA: Yeah, I think there's something psychological with it, too, where people kind of psych themselves out and make it harder than it needs to be...

RAJA: Right.

NANCHERLA: ...'Cause they'll - a lot of times, they'll throw a letter into mine, where I'm like, that wasn't even part of the equation. You just added it to make it harder for yourself.

RAJA: Right.

NANCHERLA: It'll be like Apartna (ph) or something. And I'm like, what?


JOBRANI: Apartna.

RAJA: So, OK, when people do mess your names up, does it bother either of you?

NANCHERLA: I feel like it happens so frequently that it's kind of just irritating, but then I try to remember that it's not people's intent to be insensitive. I think it can be a tricky name, but it is definitely well-trodden territory for me. Like, definitely around comedy shows, I'm used to having weird intros, to the point where I've had to, like, make up jokes around getting a bad intro.

RAJA: Like, what will you say?

NANCHERLA: A lot of times they'll sort of have trouble with the last name, and they'll stumble. So then I'll be like, oh, there is actually a stumble in my last name. Not everyone gets it, but he nailed it.

RAJA: Maz, what about you? Does it bother you?

JOBRANI: Yeah, I guess a little bit. It's a little bit like fingernails on a chalkboard. So what I'll do is find an opportunity to tell them a story where I say, you know, when I was a kid, my dad used to say, listen, Maz...

RAJA: Aha.

JOBRANI: ...What you need to do is blah, blah, blah, blah. And then sometimes they get it, but then sometimes they still don't. And I'm like, ah, didn't work. So then I got to come back at a certain point, and I got to find the moment when I don't sound too jerky...

RAJA: Right.

JOBRANI: ...To go, listen, man, not a big deal, but just - it's actually pronounced Maz.

RAJA: Right.

JOBRANI: And then I go through the whole thing. I go, it's like Mazda, Mazatlan, Maserati, Lamaz (ph). And I just hope it sticks.

RAJA: Most people who do this, they're really not trying to be jerks, right? Like, it's totally natural not to know how to pronounce a name that you haven't seen before. Like, I have definitely done this to other people. But I have also had the experience of correcting someone more than once, trying to be really nice about it. You know, you talked about taking somebody aside and just being nice about it, not being a jerk. But then they still keep saying it wrong. And I wonder, you know, do you guys feel that it's fair at that point to think, this is no longer an honest mistake.

JOBRANI: Well, I check myself sometimes. Sorry I jumped into this, Aparna, but it just reminded me...

NANCHERLA: No, no, no, go ahead.

JOBRANI: ...That I check myself because sometimes I get upset at people. I'm like, this jerk does not know my name. He does not know how to pronounce my name. And then I go, wait a minute, what's this guy's name again? Like, I don't even know his name.


RAJA: Aparna, do you ever feel awkward about correcting people? Like, was there ever a time when it really bothered you in the moment but you didn't feel like it was worth it to say something, or maybe even like you couldn't say something?

NANCHERLA: Yeah, I mean, I feel like if I'm meeting someone who's maybe a higher status than me or like someone who I'm intimidated by, it's hard for me to be like, actually, you say my name like this. It just feels like I'm making them look bad or something which is crazy because it's your name. And you shouldn't feel bad about how your name is pronounced. But I tend towards non-confrontation and accommodating people. So I'm usually just like, I'll let it slide unless it, like, comes up several more times.

RAJA: Right.

NANCHERLA: But then it feels like the more they say it, then it's like the window closes, so...

RAJA: Right, right.

NANCHERLA: It's like a catch-22.

RAJA: Yeah. You know, I can kind of relate to what you were saying about it feels like a window closes, right? When you've had a friend for a long time and they call you by a certain name - and then what are you going to do? Like 15 years later...

NANCHERLA: (Laughter).

RAJA: ...By the way, it's not Tazneem, (ph), it's Tasneem. And I know, you know, that A-Z sound, I just feel like there's something particularly fingers-on-the-chalkboard about that for me.

NANCHERLA: Yeah, I always wonder, like, what the extreme of that would be where it's like you die and then they're at your funeral and doing your eulogy with the wrong pronunciation.

RAJA: Right.

JOBRANI: First of all, there's two thoughts that just came to mind. One is there's some people that overcompensate and they go the other way...

RAJA: Right.

JOBRANI: So it'd be like, it's Maz Djhobrani (ph)...


JOBRANI: They really get into the djhro (ph).

RAJA: Right.

JOBRANI: I'm like, take it easy with that J-whatever, the extra Js. But the other thing that you just said, Aparna, is - my wedding, the priest messed up my name.

RAJA: Oh, no.

JOBRANI: Yeah, because...


JOBRANI: Yeah, so what happened was we got married in Mexico. And I'd forgotten, but I guess like Mexicans from Mexico have a hard time with my name. And we told the priest it was marrying us. And my wife is Indian, and her name is Preetha. And we went over our names, but, like, the last names, I was like it's Jobrani and it's Mani. You know, just get that right. And I forgot about Maz...


JOBRANI: ...Until he started. And he's like, you know, (imitating Spanish accent) we're here together to bring together, you know, Mahk (ph) and Preetha.


JOBRANI: I swear to God. And everybody in the wedding kind of looked at each other. And I kind of smiled. And then he went on, and then he's like, (imitating Spanish accent) so when Mahk (ph) first met Preetha - and then my mom's like, it's Maz. And the guy was like, (imitating Spanish accent) what? And it was just...


JOBRANI: It was pretty funny.

RAJA: Oh, my God.



RAJA: Maz and Aparna, we're just going to go to a quick break.



RAJA: And you're listening to CODE SWITCH.


RAJA: Thanks for listening to CODE SWITCH. Why not try Planet Money? It's a show that explains the economic forces that shape your life, but it sounds like hanging out at a bar with your closest friends. This week and next, Planet Money is getting into the oil business and actually buying physical crude oil. They'll follow it from the ground to your gas tank and find out who the people are who actually make our oil. Find Planet Money on NPR One or at


DEMBY: All right y'all, this is CODE SWITCH, and we're back. Today, we're hearing from Tasneem Raja, who's an editor on the CODE SWITCH team, about names. She's joined by two comedians, Maz Jobrani who was in Culver City, Calif., and Aparna Nancherla in New York City.

RAJA: So we actually put a call out on Twitter asking people with names that people or other people are always getting wrong to talk to us about it. And 500 people left us voicemails, which was pretty amazing. And thank you to everybody who called in. And I want to play one of these for you, one of these voicemails. It gets at how funny and weird this stuff can get sometimes.

NSIKAN AKPAN: Hey, CODE SWITCH. My name is Nsikan Akpan, or at least that's how I pronounce it. It's spelled N-S-I-K-A-N, last name A-K-P, as in Paul, -A-N. My parents pronounce my first name with the N, so it's Nsikan. The first mispronunciation I can remember came in kindergarten. Our school secretary called me Nissan...


AKPAN: ...And continued to do so during my entire time in elementary school. You know, Nissan Akpan...

RAJA: (Laughter).

AKPAN: ...Your mom is here to pick you up. Since then, I've had an array of other foul-ups or nicknames. Ensikan (ph) - where people add a syllable to my name. Niskan (ph) is probably the most common, where people switch the I and the S. Then there's pecan, peacock...

RAJA: (Laughter).

AKPAN: ...Seabear, CeCe, Scantron...

RAJA: (Laughter).

AKPAN: ...Siskin, napkin and napkin afghan. An administrator at my college called me that for two years. I corrected her multiple times - but no dice. She may have been joking the whole time. But who knows?

RAJA: OK, for you guys, is there - like this guy - is there a variant of your name that you just, like, really hate?

JOBRANI: Well, for me, it's just the Maz.

RAJA: Yup.

JOBRANI: It's so American.

NANCHERLA: (Laughter).

JOBRANI: It's so, like, American Maz.

RAJA: (Laughter).

JOBRANI: And I'm like, travel the world. Like, put an ah in there.

RAJA: Right.

JOBRANI: Matter of fact - our son is named Dhara, which is a Persian name. But, you know, some people would say Dara (ph). And we intentionally put an H in there.


JOBRANI: So instead of going D-A-R-A, we went D-H-A-R-A so that people would - teachers would think, wait a minute. There's an H in there. Is it Dhara? You know, like, we felt that that would kind of exoticize the name a little bit.

RAJA: Right.

JOBRANI: But still, even with that intention, there were times when the poor kid - you know, when he was in preschool playing with some other kids, the kids would be like, hey, Dora, come over here. But they weren't trying to be mean.

RAJA: Right.

JOBRANI: They were just calling him Dora 'cause they knew Dora. And I was like, oh, no. We didn't think of Dora.


RAJA: Aparna, what about you?

NANCHERLA: I feel like as an adult - not as much. I remember in middle school, I went to camp maybe in seventh or eighth grade. And we were, like, all introducing ourselves. And, you know, I said Aparna. And then someone maybe didn't hear me. And they were like, a porno? Like porn?


NANCHERLA: And then that, like, stuck. And I was like, no. Like, first of all, you got it wrong. Why do you get now to choose the nickname?

RAJA: Right.

NANCHERLA: It's like, you know, teenage boys, once they start going, it's like...

RAJA: (Laughter).

JOBRANI: Forget it.

NANCHERLA: ...You can't stop it.

RAJA: You know, this - what we're talking about actually reminds me of one of the other - the voicemails. This is another one that - you know, speaking of just sort of, like, life stages. It's another one I really related to.

TAMEER: Hi there. So I'm calling in reference to the tweet about having a name that's very hard to pronounce. My name is spelled T-A-M-E-E-R. The way it's supposed to be said and the way that my parents pronounce it is Tameer - Tameer with a slight rolled R. But I grew up telling people to call me Tamer - like lion tamer - because no one could ever get that rolled R at the end.

And it was always easier to just say lion tamer, like an English word. At some point in high school or college, I switched to saying Themmer (ph), like hemmer with a T. So it's interesting because now I can tell at what point in my life that I've met someone based on what they call me - whether they call me Tamer or Themmer. Some attempts that I hear from other people saying my name - I've gotten Tamar, Tamara, Tamir. But me and my siblings all have our go-to phrases to explain how to say our names. Thank you.

RAJA: Do you guys have those tricks?

NANCHERLA: Yeah. I do with my last name. But I don't know if it actually helps anyone. But, like, for Nancherla, I'm always like, it's like a nanny...

RAJA: (Laughter).

NANCHERLA: ...In a chair singing, la.

RAJA: (Laughter).

NANCHERLA: (Laughter) I don't know if that's useful to anyone. But it helps me.

RAJA: Yeah.

JOBRANI: Yeah. For me, it's just the words Joe and bra and knee.


JOBRANI: And that doesn't always work. It kind of confuses them.

RAJA: It doesn't always work. Yeah.

JOBRANI: It confuses them sometimes. They're like, what?

RAJA: You know, I do Robitussin. And then I feel like a Montessori school teacher.


RAJA: You know, I'm like, okay, say bus. And they'll say bus. And I'll say, OK. Say tuss. Tuss. Robitussin. And then they can say Robitussin. I'm like, OK. Let's put it all together. Tasneem. Taz-neem (ph). Yup. I don't understand what happens there.

NANCHERLA: I think there's some, like, human reflex where no matter what you're telling them, they kind of already have their version ready. So it's, like, no matter what you say there, it's going to come out like what they have decided it is.

RAJA: So there was actually this study showing that people don't trust you as much if your name is hard to pronounce. I was reading about this in Scientific American. It brings up - if you're trying to hire somebody for a job, and you're looking at these two resumes - one is John Smith. And the other one is, you know, Aparna Nancherla, Maz Jobrani.


RAJA: There could be a subconscious thing that you may not even realize that gives John Smith that little extra edge. So, I mean, there might be some real world consequences here, aside from us just being annoyed all the time. But I'm curious about how you guys think about this in your professional life. Like, if you have a TV special, are you going on tour? Do you worry that someone's going to see your name and think, I'm not - OK, I'm not touching that.

JOBRANI: To me, John Smith is just boring.

RAJA: Uh-huh.


JOBRANI: I'm like, ah, it's another John Smith. I'm like, who is this Aparna?

NANCHERLA: (Laughter).

JOBRANI: Let me meet Aparna. So yeah, I think - I don't know. I think the world that we live in now is different. I mean, you know, we had a governor named Schwarzenegger. So yeah. I think that especially in the comedy world - I don't know how it is for you, Aparna - but I've seen that it's become more and more diverse. So it's open in that way.

NANCHERLA: Yeah. And I feel like, sometimes, it's relative, too, 'cause in my family, I actually have the easiest-to-pronounce name. Like, my mom and dad and sister all have harder names. So it's like I feel like I actually got off easy.

RAJA: What are their names?

NANCHERLA: My sister's Bhavana. So it's like Havana with a B at the front.

RAJA: Uh-huh.

NANCHERLA: And people have a terrible time with that. And then my dad is Ananth, which is A-N-A-N-T-H. And then my mom is Suchitra.

RAJA: Wow.

NANCHERLA: (Laughter) Yeah, I know.

JOBRANI: Like the Brady Bunch.

RAJA: (Laughter).

NANCHERLA: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

JOBRANI: But, you know, the other thing is, also, there's some names that, I think, nowadays, given just the temperament of the country - like, I have relatives that have names like, you know, Mahmoud or - you know, the Alis and the Amirs and all the more Islamic-sounding names. And I know some of those guys changed their names. Just, you know, they go to Mike instead of Mahmoud.

RAJA: Right.

JOBRANI: You know, so there's that aspect of it, as well.

RAJA: Has anyone in your professional lives ever suggested that you change your name in any way?

NANCHERLA: I feel like when I was starting, a lot of people would be like, can we just say your first name? And they were, like, your last name's off the table. Like, it's just - you haven't earned it yet or something.

RAJA: (Laughter) Right.


NANCHERLA: But I was like, there's no way I'm going to be a one-name act.

RAJA: Right.

NANCHERLA: This just seems like a strong statement.

RAJA: (Laughter).

JOBRANI: Yeah, I had some - I think it was - I was trying to get a commercial agent early on. And I think they suggested that I change my name to something more just - American-sounding name like Mitch James or something like that...

NANCHERLA: Oh, my God (laughter).

JOBRANI: ...'Cause they said, you know, Maz Jobrani just is a little too ethnic. And I said, nobody really knows what that is.

RAJA: Right.

JOBRANI: Like it's not - doesn't sound like anything, really. I mean, I don't think it's a very common name. So yeah, I didn't go with that person.

RAJA: I want to play one more of these voicemails for you. This voicemail is from a young woman who says her name differently from the way her parents do. And she feels kind of weird about it.

ANDREA MORALES: Hey. My name is Andrea Morales. I've been pronouncing it that way since I was a young person growing up in Miami. That's how all the other Andreas said their name. My parents pronounce it Andrea Morales. And I feel like I should get back to that. So when I hear people call me Andrea Morales, which is probably the most common way people mess up my name, it makes me feel like - I don't know - like I'm betraying my parents a little bit when I respond to it and don't correct it.

RAJA: Do you guys relate to that at all?

JOBRANI: Andrea actually is - you know, it's got an American version. You know, so I think that's the other problem that person runs into 'cause we all know when you see that - you know, that Latina reporter who's speaking like this. And then she goes, you know, Andrea Morales...

RAJA: Right (laughter).

JOBRANI: ...Reporting - you know, you're like, whoa, what just happened? So it's - that's a tough one because they've got a name that actually has a version in English. And so it's hard for people to really get it right. Whereas, like, there is no English version of Aparna, you know? So it's like that's the only way you can do it.

RAJA: Right.


RAJA: A lot of people just can't - like, they just didn't really grow up in a language that makes it easy for them to say that name. But it's interesting to me that she feels weird about it personally.

NANCHERLA: Yeah. To me, it kind of brings up the - you know, when you grow up sort of part of two cultures - like, assimilating versus sort of being like, no, you're going to embrace the differences that I bring to the table. So I feel like it is kind of a choice you have to make. So I can see kind of feeling guilty that you're sort of betraying one side by kind of letting the other one dominate. Just on a daily basis, I think, for me, it's - like, I get coffee every day. And I feel like when the barista asks for your name, it's always like...

RAJA: Oh, yeah.

NANCHERLA: I always make that decision. Lately I've just been - oh, just put the letter A.

RAJA: Right.

NANCHERLA: Today I was, like, brave. And I tried to go for my full name. And then, like, halfway through spelling it, the barista literally was like, oh, that's enough.


NANCHERLA: It was just Apar (ph).

RAJA: (Laughter).

NANCHERLA: And that's what they read.


RAJA: I have one last question for you. So if you guys could go back in time and be there at the moment when your parents were picking your name, would you try and get them to pick something else, like something easier or something bolder?

JOBRANI: I like my name. I actually like the Z in there. I've always been a fan of the letter M, maybe because my name starts with M. But there's a story that the name Maziyar - actually, he was a warrior in a famous Persian story called the Shahnameh by a guy named Ferdowsi. So it's a famous historical character. So I've always liked my name. Maziyar in Persian is not like - let's say Ali would be kind of like the John, right? And then maybe - I don't know - you know, Amir might be like Mike.

RAJA: Right.

JOBRANI: Maziyar is kind of like - I don't know. It's not the most common name. You know, maybe it's like Trent or - I don't know.


JOBRANI: I don't know where it falls in the American lexicon. But it's a unique name. And I haven't met that many in my life. And the ones I've met have been pretty cool. And personally, you know, this whole conversation we're having - I personally feel like it's not that hard to just say Maz.

RAJA: Right.

JOBRANI: And so when I correct somebody from Maz to Maz, it just is not that hard. And yet they continue to make that mistake.

RAJA: Aparna, what about you?

NANCHERLA: Yeah. I think I'm also on that page where I like my name. And I feel like I've learned to embrace it. Like, a background on mine is it - it's like another name for this Hindu goddess, Parvati. But it basically - Aparna symbolizes, like, self-discipline or, like, perseverance. I feel like I would be betraying my name to, like, you know, toss it in. It would be like betraying its meaning.

RAJA: Yeah.

NANCHERLA: But also, you know, having a unique name is good if you're a performer because I feel like you're not competing for Google search results.


RAJA: Yeah. The domain names - I never have a problem with that.

NANCHERLA: (Laughter) Yeah.

RAJA: (Laughter) Yeah. Thanks to Aparna Nancherla and Maz Jobrani for joining us.

NANCHERLA: Thank you.

JOBRANI: Thanks guys.

NANCHERLA: All right, guys.

RAJA: OK, bye.

Aparna is a New-York-based stand-up comic. Her debut comedy record, "Just Putting It Out There," was released in July. And Maz has a new movie coming out. It's called "Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero." And it will play in select theaters.

DEMBY: Al right, y'all. That's where we're going to leave it today. Sitting in with us this week is Tasneem Raja.

RAJA: Tasneem.

DEMBY: Tasneem (laughter).

RAJA: Weren't you listening to all of that?

DEMBY: (Laughter) Now I'm messing it up.

RAJA: Tasneem Raja.

DEMBY: (Laughter) I'm Gene Demby. That's Tasneem Raja. Our producer is Walter Ray Watson. Alicia Montgomery and Tasneem, who you just heard from, are our editors.

RAJA: Original music this episode is from Ramtin Arablouei.

DEMBY: Our news assistant is Leah Donnella. You can find the whole team on Twitter @NPRCodeSwitch. You should definitely, definitely subscribe to our podcast where ever fine podcasts can be found. Email us at We're back next week, y'all. Be easy.

RAJA: Bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.