Names are special to everyone. It is one’s identity, depicting a uniqueness that makes you different from everyone else. Names are also cherished because it reminds us that someone loved us enough to give us a unique name with a meaning. So, what does one do when someone who controls your life changes your name without your permission, without giving you a choice?

This very thing sometimes happens to people, especially women, in government institutions across the country. When a person enters such a facility, for the most part destitute, with no home, sometimes no way of communicating and no one to stand with them, they also are at risk of losing their one single identity by which they have been known and loved.  

Noorjahan was one such woman. She lived for many years in just such a facility. At some point, people began calling her Puja, and the name “stuck.” Even her records were altered with this new assigned name. For Noorjahan, this represented a loss of not only her identity, but also her history and faith tradition. Two people entered her life as social workers and allies and took a genuine interest in this woman and wanted to know her story. She answered to Puja, but as trust developed, she was asked her “real” name, and she was finally willing to reveal it.  Her allies were struck by the trust in them, as she revealed her authentic name with a small smile and began sharing about her past.  What was it that had caused her to answer to Puja all those years? Fear, perhaps, or was it a sense of helplessness and resignation? One way of her coping with a situation over which one had no control is to go along to get along. Perhaps this was why.

As the words poured out, so did Noorjahan’s memory of where she belonged, her home place, where her family was.  And soon, she was joyously reunited with her family. All because her identity was restored, just with the recognition of her name and thereby her identity.