I spent the first few months in the Diaspora giving baristas American names like “Samantha, just Sammy for short,” instead of my [also] three-syllable name because unless you stop to listen to my name’s pronunciation, you’ll hear “Shina”, “Sheemuh”, and unless you stop to ask me where I am from, then you won’t hear of how I’m actually named after my paternal grandmother, and my name is a word in the Holy Quran, but it is as uncommon there as it is here.
I spent the first year of graduate school introducing myself, as “My name is [______], [insert stutter] but I go by [inserts shortened version of name].” The fuck I do. Even my Instagram and Twitter handle gets butchered – the A always gets elongated, always harsh, and that’s how I felt on the inside sometimes, when I heard my three-syllable-name-spelled-the-way-it-is-said roll off tongues with difficulty and often no effort [to not butcher it]. But I sort of stopped introducing myself this way the moment I heard my classmate always stressing the ‘E’ in Enijah – her name, and the stress felt like, “get it right already.” And I thought, same girl. Same.
I once butchered a white name -I am not absolved from butchering – by pronouncing it the way it was spelled. “It’s [K——–uh],” I was told, and it wasn’t even his name to fight for, and I wish I had someone to fight for my name when I chose not to, and I always wait to hear if he’s finally going to say my name and not whisper it in the soft way he does, unafraid to make a mistake, able to ask if the syllables are rolling in order. Maybe that’s when I realised a white man can never fully love me the way I want him to – his lips mouth sweet proclamations, but what’s sweeter than speaking a name born out of the holiest of poems?
I spent five minutes arguing -in Arabic- with my youngest brother by the cashier register at Cane’s, telling him to give his real name -Malik- not “Mike because it’s easier”, and I spend most of my time in the Diaspora reflecting on all the moments spent accommodating easier, when all I want to tell is the story of how I got this name.