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Illustration by Ania Siniuk

An Ode to Mispronounced Names

words by Hasheemah Afaneh

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
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.

illustration by Ania Siniuk

Hasheemah Afaneh, MPH is a Palestinian-American writer and public health professional based in New Orleans. She tries to balance her passion for storytelling with community health as she finds solace in the written word and the positive actions that can result from it. You can find her work here.

She also worked on a pilot episode for a travel podcast that will resume in the summer of 2020 and can be found here. She has written for various media outlets, including the Sinking City Literary Review, Reclamation Magazine, HuffPost, the Fair Observer, and This Week in Palestine.

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