Posted by Pree Walia on December 26, 2015 at 4:25 PM
I get many raised eyebrows when presenting my company’s name - Preemadonna. To some it sounds narcissistic: why else would I include my name as part of the company? Critics have suggested it's too “feminine” and that I’m making technology less serious by attributing it to a beauty ritual that is categorized as "girly".
Origin: Late 18th century, Italian, first lady
1. The chief female singer in an opera or opera company
2. A very temperamental person with an inflated view of their own talent or importance
The original prima donnas of the Italian opera were powerful and dynamic women. As Rupert Christiansen explains, "opera has always been a highly-strung profession, running on dynamic & creative clashes of will and temperament. Given such a gamble in such circumstances, a woman had to be alert and aggressive to survive. Acting the prima donna may have been the only way to avoid exploitation and a prima donna's greed was often her hard headed refusal to work for less than her market value." (Christiansen, Prima Donna A History).
The modern day "Prima donna" has diverse connotations. When you google ‘prima donna’, you may see lingerie brands, an album by the pop icon Madonna or an entrepreneur that promotes a waist trainer. All are traditionally "feminine" brands or lifestyles that boast a confident woman. Yet modern prima donnas face the same accusations of conceit and vanity that their Italian counterparts also struggled with. Meanwhile, modern male prime donne, are given words (and mainstream sitcoms) like Ballers, Hustlers, or Leading Men. Somehow mainstream culture deemed the male version of conceit as powerful and respected - but not in the reciprocal manner as women.
PREE TO PREEMADONNA
The overlooked irony is that my full name is a traditional Indian man's name. It is not considered feminine or delicate. In fact, my parents tried avoid giving me a "princess" name. In 2008, I wrote an essay for business school outlining the history of my name:
"If you Google my full name, Harpreet Singh Walia, you will see dozens of listings for men of Indian descent, many of whom wear a turban. When you meet me in person, you will encounter an Indian woman whose speech possesses a hint of a Southern accent.
To resolve this paradox, you must view my name in a religious and historical context. The tenth Guru of the Sikhs created universal middle names for all Sikh men and women in the hopes of ending caste distinction. Yet these designations produced a rigid gender division. Men were assigned the middle name Singh—meaning lion or warrior—and women were given the middle name Kaur—meaning princess. My parents, Sikh immigrants from India, came to America with few dollars and a hunger for opportunity. My mother—whose arranged marriage at twenty to my father was a substitute for higher education and a catalyst for a better life—wanted intellectually assertive and financially independent daughters. To her, the middle name Singh inferred strength, fearlessness and determination. Acutely aware of gender hierarchies, my parents chose a masculine first and middle name to showcase these traditionally male attributed qualities in me. Pree, shortened from Harpreet, became my family Indian nickname chosen by my mother. My name matters the most to me because it not only represents the past cross cultural struggles of women—including my mother—in male egocentric cultures but also the current opportunities and ceilings that a new generation of women face today."
My parent’s gave me a man’s name — Harpreet Singh Walia — believing it would help me succeed in this world. Instead, I have turned it into something that is overtly feminine and simultaneously powerful— Preemadonna.
I am not a narcissist - I genuinely want to make a difference in this world - with the gifts and talents that I've been given and the experiences that I've sought out - to show that if you dream big enough and work hard, you can bring any idea to life. Irrespective of your gender or who your target market is.
Robots that paint nails are serious business. And that is not a contradiction.
CEO & Co-Founder, Preemadonna