What Is Nikki Haley's Real Name?

Following the results of the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses on January 15, 2024, winner Donald Trump resorted to his usual insulting rhetoric to attack his opponent, Nikki Haley. "Anyone listening to Nikki 'Nimrada' Haley's wacked out speech last night, would think that she won the Iowa Primary," Trump wrote on Truth Social. Of course, the former president and presidential hopeful's intention could be to portray Haley as less American by suggesting she uses a fake name to hide her background.

Haley is the daughter of academic Sikh Indian parents who immigrated first to Canada, where her father earned his Ph.D. before relocating to Bamberg, South Carolina, in 1969 to teach at Voorhees College. Haley was born there three years later. The Republican candidate has been open about her heritage. "I was the proud daughter of Indian immigrants — not Black, not white. I was different," Haley said in a February 2023 campaign video.

But Trump is not the first to accuse Haley of attempting to hide her heritage. Despite belonging to a minority group, Haley has defended that racial discussions cause division in the country, a stance that has earned her criticism from many who believe she tries to pass for white. "More history white washing? US history should be factual and taught. I do not care for your white washed name," an X, formerly known as Twitter, user wrote in response to a 2021 tweet in which Haley argued against critical race theory. But Nikki Haley is her actual name — at least partly. 

Nikki Haley uses her middle name and married surname

Donald Trump isn't wrong in claiming Nikki Haley's name is Nimarata — although he misspelled it. But Nikki is also her name, as is Haley. "Nikki is my name on my birth certificate. I married a Haley. I was born Nimarata Nikki Randhawa and married Michael Haley," she tweeted in 2018. While Nikki is a fairly common name and nickname in the U.S., it is also common in the Punjab region of India, where her parents came from. It means "little one," according to the AP

Haley also didn't adopt her middle name after becoming a politician. "Haley has gone by her middle name Nikki since she was born," her campaign rep told the news agency. When she entered politics, however, she did change her last name. Until 2003, a year before winning a seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives, she went by Nikki Randhawa-Haley. When she started campaigning, Haley decided the hyphenation wasn't going to work. "It wouldn't fit on a yard sign," she told The Charlotte Observer in 2004.

Like Trump, her opponent in the 2004 elections, Larry Koon, also tried to use her unmarried name against her by naming her as Nimarata N. Randhawa in an ad, though his campaign denied any racial motivation. Her campaign disagreed. "Lexington County is unfairly stereotyped as a place where that kind of tactic might work," Haley's campaign consultant said. It didn't work, but the issue of Haley's name proved long-lasting.

Nikki Haley also dropped her religion

Nikki Haley's family name isn't the only aspect of her life that changed when she married Michael Haley. Interestingly, he also goes by his middle name. Before Nikki convinced him he looked more like a Michael, he was actually known as Bill. Nikki and Michael married in 1996 in alignment with her husband's religion. "I was born and raised with the Sikh faith, my husband and I were married in the Methodist Church," she told The Charlotte Observer. Nikki quickly embraced the faith, converting that same year.

When the Haleys welcomed Rena and Nalin in 1998 and 2001, they opted to have them baptized in the church. Nikki says she felt drawn to the religion because she could understand it — literally. Despite being raised in a different culture, Nikki never learned Punjabi. "I did read Indian scriptures when we could get the English versions, but the problem was I never took the time to learn the language," she told The New York Times in 2012.

While she valued the teachings of Sikhism, a monotheistic faith, her relationship with it was more emotional than practical. "With the Sikh faith, I understood the feeling of the faith, but I never understood the words so that's really what it was," she said. Nikki seems to have distanced herself from her original faith, at least publicly, as her political career progressed, CBN News noted. One thing's for sure: Nikki knows how to use her attributes to her advantage.