If you have a name that Microsoft Word doesn't put a squiggly red line under, then this post isn't for you. But you should read it anyway. If you're like me, and have never been able to buy a keychain at the store because your name is too different then put your hand in the air and say ayeee!
So, my own name, is one that I don't commonly hear even in my own community. I'm not an Aisha/Ayesha/Mariam/Maryam. I'm Ramzah. And I hated my name. First off, I don't know why, but for the first 4 years of my life, my name was spelled without the 'h' at the end; 'Ramza'. When I was 5, I remember being in school, and my teacher went to my cubby where I would hang my jacket and keep my lunch box. She took a sharpie to the masking tape on my cubby that read "Ramza" and added an 'h' at the end. RamzaH. What the hell. Why did you do that? I was so mad at her for so long. I swear, the H at the end ruined everything. Ramza was simple. The H just confused everyone. I spent the next x amount of years cringing on first days where the teacher made an apology at the beginning of roll call, but didn't understand that I wanted more than an apology. I wanted the teacher to be able to look at 6 letters and not fuck up my name. I always knew when my name was next because there was always this annoying pause while the teacher looked sideways at the paper. Eventually you get used to it. But it shapes you. First off, the kids I went to school with growing up were too dumb to come up with a rhyming insult to my name. I gave them one myself because I felt bad for how much they lacked in their creativity. "Dumb-zah." It could be worse. (Side note, I had a friend named Ashwaq who worked with me at a clothing store. Our manager had an asian accent. Now try to say Ashwaq with an Asian accent and hear what it sounds like.) Ashwaq, I'm so sorry that you had to endure that shit.
Anyways - like MANY other people with different names, you stop caring about how it's pronounced, just as long as it's close enough. I never had a cool nickname because "Ram", "Ramz", and "Ramzy" just don't cut it. So I was Ramzah. And here's the thing, A LOT of other people LOVED my name. I'd often hear (after they butchered it and I corrected it), an "Oh wow! What a beautiful name!" But I never thought of my name as beautiful. It's a name. Shoutout to you if you've always thought of your name as being beautiful. That self love must be nice. I didn't have it. Here's the thing. I'm the younger middle child of 4. I'm the only one amongst my siblings with a name that other Pakistanis don't have. So even when I was with them, and my own people - I was the one getting questions about my name.
But at least the people in my community could pronounce my name. I gave up on white people trying to say my name a long time ago. So I conformed and gave them the pass to say my name as they saw fit. "RAAM-Zuh". And I went trotting along through life, putting myself on autopilot when it came to my name. Until Zoe came along. Zoe's one of those friends from high school who you don't need to see in years but if you ran into them it would be somewhere random like on a double decker bus in London. And you would both scream. So Zoe changed my life, and she doesn't even know it. I had randomly ran into Zoe one day while I was in university and we hadn't talked much since high school so we were catching up on things as we walked through Mac Hall. As we walked past the table where all the brown kids were playing cards. One of them called out to me and asked me something. I answered and continued walking. Only to realize that Zoe had stopped. I turned around and her face was on pause. And then she said, "what did she call you?" I looked at Zoe and was like, "what?" Zoe goes, "your name, why did she say your name like that?" To which I responded, "oh, I don't care. Both ways are fine." Zoe goes, "no. How is your name supposed to be pronounced?" (clearly looking frustrated). To which I said, "well, technically it's Ramzah [rum-zah], but it's hard for some people to say it." I will NEVER forget Zoe's next sentence.
"Uhhh!!! No. White people... CAN SAY RUM."
White people can say rum.
You know what... yes, yes they can. I promise you, from that day forward I have not pronounced my name 'easier' for non-brown people. Say it right, or don't say it at all. It's two syllables. You don't get a pass. I mean look, of course people still mispronounce my name - but I correct them now. And yes, I have a fake Starbucks name because I'd rather give a fake name, then have someone give back a diced up version of it. And although I cannot avoid Ramzah being turned into Rhonda over the phone, I realized that I do not hate my name. I merely hate when people don't say it right, and for years I shrugged my shoulder and didn't let it bother me. But now that I genuinely love my name, I'd like it to be said properly.
We live in a time where people are naming their children based on ease. They're making sure they don't pick a name that will get their kid bullied. They're making sure it's spelled in a way that North American society will be able to pronounce, and accept it. And here's the thing, that's not necessarily a bad thing. But here's the other thing; naming your kid something that will be easy for OTHER people to say, is not a good enough reason for picking a name. Because here's the thing, a unique name built my confidence. It made me stop and correct someone when they were wrong. It gave me a backbone to not take something I don't like from other people, just because it's easy. It made me, me.
I left this part until the end so that I can separate the people who actually read this from the people who read the title but not the article and will have paragraphs of opinions to give me. The name Ramzah is derived from the Arabic language. It is in the 3rd chapter of the Quran, and it means 'ishara' - which I have not in 26 years been able to come up with a better english translation for other than 'sign or symbol'.
I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Warsan Shire. "Give your daughters difficult names. Give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue. My name makes you want to tell me the truth. My name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right."