Living in a society where monotony is preferred, your name can say a lot about your background. Likewise, the way a person chooses to respond to your name can say a lot about them.
Many first generation Americans or children of immigrant families have faced the awkwardness of having to repeatedly explain how to pronounce their names, only to have their identities erased by people purposely mispronouncing their name or giving them a generic “nickname” simply for their comfort.
By allowing Americans to shape our names to fit their tongue in a palatable way, we are assimilating ourselves to a culture that is bent on erasing our identities.
We are contributing to the endless cycle of prejudice and ignorance that has plagued this country since its birth. As an Arab-American, I’ve known only the unwelcoming glares from the people who are subjected to the same law as me. Growing up, I knew I had to make myself moldable in order to be accepted, to the point that I didn’t know my own name anymore.
The first thing I was given upon birth was my name and a certain sect of society managed to take that away from me. Or rather, I allowed them to. Anytime I would leave my house, my tongue would change from the Arabic tongue I was born into, to the English tongue I was bullied into accepting. I could no longer pronounce my name correctly; with the same intonations and emphasis that organically shaped my name in Arabic.
When you introduce yourself, demand that the person across from you bridges the barrier between the hyphen in “Arab-American” or “Indian-American” or “Pakistani-American” and pronounces your name correctly.
We continuously preach ideas of equality and acceptance just as the way we are. But right as we introduce ourselves, we easily welcome the idea that we won’t be as good as the other people, so we might as well make our names easier for them. We want to spare ourselves the embarrassment and the audacity of saying our own name. So we change ourselves, in a way that is subtle, yet almost tangibly there.
Living in a society where monotony is preferred, just saying your name with the authenticity that it demands to live up to its meaning is an act of resistance. When you introduce yourself, demand that the person across from you bridges the barrier between the hyphen in “Arab-American” or “Indian-American” or “Pakistani-American” and pronounces your name correctly.