Love, Life Stories

Learning to love my name took me years

I dreaded roll call.

The confusion was almost formulaic.  First, the brow would furrow. Then the lips would purse. An eyebrow would raise, their head would dip slightly, and then:

“Let’s see here… asth…ma? Asthma?”

My face burned. “It’s…Asma” I replied. 

“Oh okay. Auz-ma.” Check. 

A male classmate came up to me afterwards. “Ha-ha, Auzma! That’s sounds like ‘osmosis’!” I laughed embarrassedly, and walked away with my face burning. 

And I would just think to myself, what are you doing? That's not your name, dude. Click To Tweet

I once told my parents that I wished they had named me something else. If only they called me something that could be easily “Americanized.” Why didn’t they think to spare me the pain?

I spent my 5th and 6th grade years responding to the name “ossma” (pronounced aw-sma) because I was too ashamed and embarrassed to correct everyone around me. I was at a public school and I was the only person who spoke Arabic.

My name sounded so ugly in their mouths.

My name sounded so ugly in their mouths. Click To Tweet

I’ve been called Assma, Asthma, Eyzma, Ozma, Asmama, Osama, Uzma, and Esme. Seriously. I have a running list of all the variations people have come up with over the years. I find it hilarious now and I take it with a grain of salt. But there was a point in time when I was ashamed.

I’ve come to realize that I wasn’t the only one who’s felt this way. I began to notice that other Arabs went by shortened, “American” names. Mohammed became Moe. Samiah became Sam. Abdullah became Abe.

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And I would just think to myself, what are you doing? That’s not your name, dude.

It wasn’t just the Arabs, though. My Asian and Indian peers did it too. They picked names that had nothing to do with who they were, in a language that wasn’t theirs.

I understand the temptation to give the barista a different name. Click To Tweet

At first, I wished I could do the same. But my name couldn’t be shortened, and I couldn’t come up with a suitable, American nickname. I couldn’t go by ‘As.’ That would be stupid and counterintuitive to my plight. “Sam” was a real stretch. Perhaps I could have gone by something completely random, like “sunny.” Honestly though, the thought made me grimace. That wasn’t who I was, that wasn’t who I was named. No matter how badly I wanted to change my name, I simply couldn’t.

Now though, I see just how wrong it is to alter your name.

Your name is who you are. It is the primary, most basic part of your identity. By changing your name, you are presenting the world with a different “you.” You make the statement to the world that you’re rejecting who you are. And when you give in to societal pressures, and change your name for the sake of making others’ lives easier, you voluntarily become a victim of whitewashing.

Sometimes, I tell the barista to write a name like “Sarah” on my cup. But it feels like treason.

I understand the temptation to give the barista a different name. Believe me, I do. I know that it could save you the extra, awkward minute in line. But you know what, if not you, then who? Who else will stand up for your name?

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Stand up for your name.

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Asma Elgamal

Asma Elgamal

Asma Elgamal is our Head News + Society Editor at The Tempest. She's currently a student at Harvard University.

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