Fact Check

No, Nikki Haley Did Not 'Change Her Name' Because of Racism

Nikki Haley, born Nimarata Nikki Randhawa to Punjabi Sikh immigrants, has gone by her middle name her whole life.

Published Jan 18, 2024

 ( Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Image Via Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Claim:
GOP 2024 U.S. presidential candidate Nikki Haley "changed her name" to a less foreign-sounding one.
Context

Nikki Haley was born Nimarata Nikki Randhawa to Punjabi Sikh immigrants. She has gone by her middle name, a Punjabi word for "little one," since well before she entered political life.

Former South Carolina governor, U.N. ambassador, and 2024 U.S. presidential candidate Nikki Haley has stated, on myriad occasions, that, "America is not a racist country." Following such statements, political opponents often reignite a false claim on social media that Haley, daughter of Punjabi Indian immigrants, changed her name to be less foreign-sounding.

This talking point re-emerged on Jan. 16, 2024, in response Haley to making that statement to Brian Kilmeade on the morning news program "Fox and Friends":

The claim is false for several reasons. Haley was born Nimarata Nikki Randhawa. Her legal middle name has been Nikki since her birth -- she did not choose that name, nor did she "anglicize" her first name from Nimarata to Nikki.

Second, while Nikki is a common American nickname, it is 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.

Allegations that Haley "whitewashed" her Indian roots in service of her political career are long-standing. 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’?"

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).

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."

Sources

“Nikki Haley Claims ‘America Is Not Racist,’ Later Says She ‘Faced Discrimination.’” NBC News, 25 Aug. 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/nikki-haley-claims-america-not-racist-later-says-she-faced-n1238025.

November 12, Christina Bellantoni Posted, and 2010 at 2:29pm. “Flashback: Nikki Haley’s Senior Class Photo.” Roll Call, 12 Nov. 2010, https://rollcall.com/2010/11/12/flashback-nikki-haleys-senior-class-photo/.

Varadarajan, Tunku. “The Smearing of Nikki Haley.” Wall Street Journal, 27 Aug. 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-smearing-of-nikki-haley-11598549001.
 

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.

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