I have a fairly simple name. It is what it is. No fancy silent letters, no random x or z or even a weird e. It’s phonetically really simple. Yet if I had a pound for every time someone mispronounced my name, I’d have enough to buy a new pair of shoes every month!
Are just a few of the names I’ve been called not just by fellow classmates / work colleagues, but by teachers and lecturers.
Trying to book hair appointments over the phone has always been a problem. I shouldn’t really trust stylists, who cannot phonetically spell my name or even attempt to do so, to cut my hair. But alas my mane often does need taming and I have to venture into these salons.
When I moved to London and started Uni I decided, as most people do, to re-invent myself. I did this by westernising my name to ‘Ash‘.
It’s not just beauticians I lie to, taxi drivers, nosey shop keepers, people who ring the work number, the woman at Starbucks*, my friends (who were really surprised when they saw my full name on official documents) and strangers I met on the train.
It was a convenience thing. Do I want to spend 10 minutes explaining the pronunciation, spelling and eventually history of my name, or do I want to get on with my day? In a world where time is money and money I don’t have, I chose to go with Ash.
But now I’m starting to wonder if I’m erasing my history, my culture and my tradition by westernising my name to fit in. The answer is Yes. I am. And I shouldn’t be. I shouldn’t have to erase my identity because someone cannot pronounce my name.
Uzoamaka Aduba puts it well:
‘I went home and asked my mother if I could be called Zoe. I remember she was cooking, and in her Nigerian accent she said, “Why?” I said, “Nobody can pronounce it.” Without missing a beat, she said, “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.’
So I lied earlier, my name does have a silent letter in it. The n is supposed to be silent and for a year or so (when I was 6) I dropped the n completely. Spelling my name Afsha -which is the correct and Arabic way to say my name. I could go into an Arabic lesson and explain how the n is silent but still has a resonance and so cannot be dropped, but that would take too long and well, time is money!
Its nice to hear people say my full name. Its something only my family and Arabic-familiar friends do. Its almost like people are making an extra effort to take time to properly pronounce my name.
So next time you see me call me by my name, Afshan.
Afshan: Persian for “disperser”, “distributor”, “spreader”, one who shares or spreads something. It is often used as a suffix for other names, such as Gulafshan (“spreader of flowers”) and Nurafshan (“spreader of light”). Afshan also means “dispersed”, “spread”, “distributed”.
I like to think of it as meaning sprinkle, or glitter. Yep not only is my name awesome, but I sparkle too!
*triple shot, Hazelnut, Soy milk, Latte – my Starbucks order