‘My name is Kovid and I’m not a virus’: The joke that’s no longer funny

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“My name is Kovid and I’m not a virus.”

Kovid Kapoor, from Bangalore, India, wrote that tweet in February 2020, right after the World Heath Organisation (WHO) announced the official name for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus: COVID-19.

Kapoor had no idea he’d still be using that line as the coronavirus pandemic heads into its third year – and that simple daily acts such as ordering a coffee in Starbucks, checking into a hotel or showing his passport at airport security would never be the same again.

Kovid Kapoor says his life has been upended since the World Health Organisation named COVID-19.Credit:Kovid Kapoor

The pandemic has fundamentally changed the lives of the many people who share the Sanskrit name of Kovid. And many of the Kovids are tired of the jokes. Several have even bonded over social media, forming a loose network to discuss and complain about their shared experiences of being mocked for a name that means “scholar or learned person” – and is referenced in Vedic literature, including within a Hindu prayer dedicated to Lord Hanuman. Even so, it’s taken on a whole new meaning in the age of COVID.

“It’s been absolutely crazy,” Kapoor said of life since the virus emerged.

Kapoor notes that the “d” at the end of his name is not a hard stop – it’s meant to be pronounced “Kovid-dah” – but it’s made little difference.

Kapoor has largely turned to humour, telling his Twitter followers he’s been “kovid positive since 1990” when he was born. He also used humour to laugh with the airport employees who carefully reviewed his passport on his recent trip to Sri Lanka – the first time he had left India during the pandemic. A more daily occurrence is Google’s autocorrect feature that tells him he has spelt his name incorrectly.

Then there was the time his friends ordered him a birthday cake with his name on it: the baker sent over “Happy birthday, covid-30” in frosting. The bakery has since apologised and offered a free cake.

“Life threw me (and all of us) a sour lemon,” Kapoor tweeted. “I just decided to take it all in good humour and make some lemonade out of it… The funny [and] sad part is that there’s gonna be a lot more of these in the future, I believe for the rest of my life.”

When WHO’s chief announced the name of the virus in February 2020, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said experts had many issues to consider.

“We had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease,” he explained.

Yet WHO did not spare one particular group of people.

“For the first year it was hilarious,” Kovid Jain, from the Indian city of Indore, said. A friend had rushed to tell her in 2020 that she was sharing the same name as the new virus everyone was talking about.

Jain, who got married in December that year, added that “my friends used to say ‘Kovid getting married in the times of COVID’ and we would laugh.”

Now, she often opts not to use her name in public, using her husband’s name or other nicknames instead, “just to spare the unwanted mockery.”

“I use my initials KJ or my pet name Koko at coffee shops or food joints to avoid the attention,” she said.

This is hard for Jain, who says she loves her name as it has “a deep meaning” because her father chose it.

Once, after wishing someone a happy new year, Jain received the reply, “We would rather not have a new year greeting from you, COVID-19.”

Kovid Sonawane, from Nagpur in the state of Maharashtra, said that while he understands the funny side, he is “mostly irritated by the correlation,” especially when the jokes come from people outside his friendship group.

At the time the COVID-19 pandemic got its name, India had reported just three cases of the virus, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. As of Sunday, 483,000 lives have now been lost to the virus in India, with more than 35 million cases recorded across the country, according to John Hopkins University.

It’s not just people named Kovid who have been affected by new words added to the global lexicon. Artist Omarion, whose real name is Omari Ishmael Grandberry, took to Twitter recently to clear up any confusion around his name and the Omicron variant.

“I am a musician and entertainer, not a variant,” he joked as he wished fans a happy new year.

And some companies have been forced to respond. Delta Air Lines made headlines last summer as marketing teams reportedly scrambled to avoid referring to the Delta variant of the virus. According to company CEO Ed Bastian, it was easier to use “B.1.617.2” or instead call it “the darn variant.”

Corona beer was one of the first impacted. “The new coronavirus that was first found recently in Wuhan, China, is not the same as Corona beer,” read a January 2020 article published by Forbes as people around the world Googled terms such as “beer virus” and “Corona beer virus,” as they tried to work out whether the virus was associated with the beverage which is brewed in Mexico.

Kapoor’s friends have also made the connection. They photographed him holding a bottle of the beer, posting it on social media with the caption: “Hey look, it’s Kovid having a corona.”

The Washington Post

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