My name is Ahlam Abdelkader and my name might be hard to pronounce for some of you, since you have to speak in tongue to pronounce the Arabic letters.
When my mother named me, pronunciation for non-Arabic speakers was something she did not consider. All that mattered to her was that my name meant “dreams.” You see, I was her first child. I made her dream of becoming a mother come true. She also dreamt that I would grow up to chase my own dreams one day.
Growing up, especially in a predominately White town in New Hampshire, no one could pronounce my name on the first try. It was even awkward at school when you are the first on the attendance sheet and you can tell by the look on the teacher’s face that they will butcher your name and embarrass you.
I even got made fun of from my classmates because my name was “not normal” to them.
So because of school, I became insecure about my own name. Instead, I used an alternative pronunciation and even had “conventional” nicknames (and no I will not list them!). Even after high school, when I started college and got my first job, I preferred to be called by an alternative name. I hated it because for years, I thought my real name was a burden and using these alternatives felt like I lived my true identity as a lie.
It wasn’t until this summer when I decided, “That is it! I need to be proud of who I am. I will start saying my name the way my mom named me.” Not going to lie, it was daunting at first, but I had gradually built a better sense-of-self!
When I told my Muslim friends that I used an alternative name for non-Muslims, they would say “Oh that’s a white girl name!” which does not make me feel any better.
However, I had a phone call with our editor-in-chief and she mentioned how our names have similar meanings and she gave me the support that I needed. So, thank you Amani! You’re the real MVP!
I stumbled upon an article that demonstrated how mispronouncing students’ names leaves them a lasting impact in a negative way. When I read Yee Wan’s story, I thought, Why should her name be “Americanized” if it is easy to pronounce? It even baffles me how “Muhammad” is the most common name in the world and shares the name with our Prophet (PBUH), yet they would settle for “Mo.”
It is important that teachers, professors, substitutes, and any school staff prioritize pronouncing students’ names correctly to not negate identities. These names are significant to the families who name their children since experience, culture, creativity, and meaning is so much for them. You do not have to pronounce these names correctly on the first try. It is okay to make mistakes as learn as you learn from it.
After all, it would not hurt to ask, “How do you pronounce your name?” A motto of mine is “It’s better to be curious than ignorant.”
No matter what, my name will be hard to pronounce and that is never going to change. However, what is not okay is saying, “Your last name is too long” or, “I’m not going to try pronouncing your name.” When you say those, you are implying “You’re different and foreign, so accept that I don’t care how you want to be called.”
When I was in elementary school, the principal could not even make a sound of my last name, so I was called on the intercom by my first name only and it felt weird and isolating.
Another instance was when I did a group presentation and my partner said every group member’s name except mine and specified me as “she.” Sure, my first name is a tough one, but you got this! As for my last name, I have a general rule — if you can pronounce Schwarzenegger, Kardashian, or Galifinakis, you can pronounce “Abdelkader.” Say it will me now! Ab-DELL-kah-der!
Teachers and school staff, you can check out Yee Wan’s pledge here!
Do you have a hard-to-pronounce name like me? Has someone ever butchered your name? Has someone never tried at all? Rant about it in the comments below!