Nikki Haley, the former Governor of South Carolina and former ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration, has long battled allegations that she “whitewashed” her Indian roots in service of her political career.
In 2020, for example, in response to a speech in which Haley asserted that “America is not a racist country,” a group called South Asians for Biden tweeted (and later deleted) the question “If America isn’t racist, why did Nimrata Haley feel compelled to change her name to ‘Nikki’?”
This talking point re-emerged in late April 2021, when Haley tweeted her objection to “wokeism” and made the assertion that “Democrats want to teach white kids that they’re racist and minority kids that the deck is stacked against them.” In response to that tweet, several commenters, including activist Bree Newsome, repeated the allegation that Haley had changed her name (to a less foreign-sounding one):
This talking point is problematic for several reasons. Haley was born to Punjabi Indian immigrants and was named Namrata Nikki Randhawa. Her legal middle name has this been Nikki since her birth — she did not choose that name, nor did she “anglicize” her first name from Nimrata to Nikki.
Second, while Nikki is a common American nickname, is it a Punjabi one as well. As Tunku Varadarajan explained in a Wall Street Journal editorial, “’Nikki’ is a Punjabi word that means ‘little one,’ often used as a term of endearment for the youngest girl in a Sikh family.”
Finally, Haley did not adopt the name Nikki as a way to boost her political career, as she has used that name since long before she entered the political arena. For example, she identified herself as Nikki Randhawa in her 1989 high school yearbook. In 1997, she married Michael Haley and took her husband’s last name, becoming Nikki Haley.
Because Nikki is a legal name given to her on her birth certificate with a cultural connection to her heritage, and because she has used this name all of her life, allegations that Nikki Haley “changed” or “whitewashed” her name are “False.”