I requested a travel visa to the United States in 2013. America gave me a new name along with the visa thanks to her unending generosity.
An image of a passport page that has a US visa stamp on it is shown. “Surname: George Joseph” and “Given Name: FNU” are both stated clearly on the visa.
FNU? Is this a mistake? My information was entered into the system by a cat, perhaps? It’s possible that this classification was unofficial. an outdated prefix. An updated pronoun? I was unable to elaborate. It is a well-known fact that the US Embassy in Mumbai lacks both the time and the necessary security protocols to deal with stragglers seeking to make sense of their personal information. I was led back out onto the street, my queries unanswered, and left to adopt the new moniker that the forceful and occasionally humorous Sam Uncle had given me.
FNU stands for “First Name Unknown,” as I would soon discover. I’ve always been rather certain of my first name, so this was strange—even mildly enraging. In fact, I was positive that this name was stated in several places on the voluminous papers I had provided to the USCIS, explicitly and in capital letters.
FNU might easily pass for an actual part of my name; it should at the very least have been spelt out as F.N.U. to distinguish itself as a clear abbreviation. The letters are not separated by dots. There are only three alphabets strung together, and there is no clear linguistic model for how to pronounce them. Fuh-nu or Fnoo?
The sole close taxonomic relative of the fnu is the gnu, an African even-toed ungulate. The only other thing that gnus and fnus have in common other being similarly misunderstood is that they both yearn for simple, non-fatal migrations to distant areas.
Reporting that a person’s first name is unknown strikes me as the work of a slack investigator. To find this purportedly elusive identity, any embassy clerk—even one without a high school diploma—could have easily gotten in touch with one of my parents. They might have raised the situation with my visa supporting employer. They could have at the very least stalked my publicly accessible Facebook profile, where they would discover a plethora of friends who would publicly announce my initial name on my birthday every September.
It seems like a terribly awful joke to say that someone with the name George Joseph has an unkown first name. After all, George and Joseph are both first names. Compared to the average person, I have more first names in my name. A self-respecting Joe Thomas like my father has more first names than the typical Joe. The one thing the Malayali Christian community from which I come has to give the world is a profusion of first names. America only had to select one. However, because of a flaw in the US Immigration bureaucratic system, I would now be referred to by the American authorities as Fnu George Joseph.
When my brother, Fnu Thomas Joseph, initially immigrated to the United States a few years ago, he experienced this for the first time. Fnu Thomas Joseph, like the Indian spy that he wasn’t, had been leading a kind of double life in the nation because we both had a similar beginning story and a shared culprit in the way our names were placed in our very first passports. His name was Thomas, according to his pals, coworkers, and the barista at his neighborhood Starbucks in La Jolla. Simple is a first name that many American immigration officers and members of the general public share. His name was Fnu, a peculiar name that would never fail to draw attention, according to his Social Security card, bank, driver’s license, and Martha from his company’s accounts team.
In fact, an immigration official at LAX questioned me in-depth about the mismatch in my name when I made my first trip to the US in 2013. My passport name did not match the name on my B1/B2 cards. How is it possible? Was I being tested by the officer? Did he not have the necessary training on how his nation names and categorizes foreigners? He asked me if I could explain the logic behind his system, a taxonomy model that cannot even locate people’s first names, to me, an Asian uneven-toed biped having no idea what my first name was.
It was more than just a simple administrative oversight to have a Fnu on your visa; it was cursed terminology that would accompany you and follow you about for the remainder of your days in the United States.
Unlike gnus, which can be found in the Serengeti without restriction, I first came upon a fnu in the wild while waiting for an Uber in San Francisco. I requested a car and was thrilled to learn that Fnu (4.9) would arrive shortly. People with names like Humbert, Beatrice, or Nosferatu probably feel the same way. Being paired on Uber with a unique namesake is an algorithmic gift that should be cherished and acknowledged. I felt compelled to participate.
“I appreciate you picking me up. Tell me your name.
‘No, it isn’t,’
Yes, it is.
Who are you really?
Who are you really?
Oh, Abhishek, I see.
Nice to meet you, I’m also a Fnu, by the way.
“Oh my God!”
“Yep. Why did you let me know you were Fnu?
Instead of attempting to explain it to others, “It’s easier if I just go with it.”
But why does Uber call you Fnu?
“My license is connected to my profile.”
“So, for years, you’ve just let thousands of travelers call you Fnu.”
It’s simpler to say than Abhishek, I think.
I eventually met another Fnu a few years later. Once again in a Lyft. An older man from Kabul, Fnu. He related how he had come to the US in search of refuge, how appreciative he was for the chance his family had been given, and how having an imposter’s name on all of his formal documentation didn’t bother him, but it did make him feel stripped of his identity. I was given this, therefore this is what I have. It is unchangeable.
It’s an unfortunate accident that “fnu” is anagrammed from “fun,” a term that describes living in a place with that name quite differently. Every subsequent piece of official documentation will also bear a FNU once you receive your visa to enter the US. This name must appear on all official identification documents. This name appears on records maintained by your employer. It will be on your American driver’s license. Your driver profile on Uber, Lyft, or any other major ride-sharing service will also be affected. Only changing the name on your visa will allow you to modify this. Only if you alter your passport name may you change the name on your US visa. This requires returning home and mustering the patience and appetite to deal with additional bureaucratic machinery that has been intended to eliminate all common sense from its procedure, especially if you are from a country like India or Afghanistan for that matter.
I made the decision to endure this torture before I left in 2016 to immigrate to the US. I had to apply for a new visa, which would have an effect on all of my subsequent paperwork. I had enough time to change my passport’s name from George Joseph to George, Joseph with the help of my older brother Fnu’s reasonable cautions. My initial name would now be known to the United States of America thanks to this modest change.
Surprisingly few government departments are good at making straightforward procedures feel personable. They are predisposed to doubt the assertions that regular people make, even when they pertain to something as simple as a visa applicant’s own name. When I had applied for a work permit at the Kreisverswaltungsreferat in Munich, I had a similar experience. The orderly structure of German naming standards was upset by my unusual passport. The officer issued me a work permit with a name that ended in a cold, mechanical “+” symbol rather than glancing up from their computer and verifying my name, an action that would have taken a total of four seconds. G. Joseph plus. I’ve evolved into a better, newer version of myself. A person who was able to correctly pronounce words like Kreisverswaltungsreferat to unwary Bavarians.
Fnu is the kind of name that seems authentically strange. Only a select few people in a city like San Francisco would ever consider asking about this kind of name. Is that, like, a name from the Middle East? Fnus have accepted their designation like it’s a knighthood across the nation. They continue to immigrate to the nation, take home their paychecks, drive Ubers, and sign up for dating apps to go on dates with Rebeccas, Alisons, Marks, Michelles, and a host of other people who will never understand what it’s like to live with a name that was never really yours to begin with.