On Having A Difficult Name


I have been thinking a lot about my name lately, and what it means. For two weeks after I was born, I had no name. From all the kicking, my parents had deduced that they would soon have a little boy, a soccer player. They were surprised to see a little girl instead, a fighter. When I was finally given my name, after much consulting with friends, family and baby name dictionaries, it was decided that I would be Tasnim.

Tasnim, in its origin, is an Arabic name. It is the name of a fountain in paradise. It starts with a gentle touch with the teeth at the tip of the tongue and lifts off from there, rolls into a small “S” to the back of the tongue which sounds like ripe leaves bristling in the breeze on a spring day, which was when I was born, and then the tongue touches the roof of the mouth, extends gentle forward and lands delicately to the bottom. It is a gentle name, soft and sweet; it is not harsh, it doesn’t not jolt you into consciousness. It is calm, soothing.

I have been thinking a lot about my name lately, how is it no longer mine, how it means nothing, how it now belongs to everyone but me as they twist and manipulate it and grit their teeth together to something easier to pronounce for them. “English” names are not difficult, and yet I fret over mispronouncing Sarah/Sara — “Sehrah” or “SAArah” — and I listen with great attention as others speak it. I would never want to deny anyone of meaning. I surrender my name, always a bit embarrassed, always sheepish, anxiety mounting for that moment when I must repeat my name twice, thrice, four times until it is declared, “I’m just going to call you ________.” When I introduce myself, I never just say my Arabic name and stop there. Like an apology that is extended, I say, “You can call me Taznim; it’s easier to pronounce. You can call me anything that is easy for you.”

I have been thinking a lot about my name lately, and whether I am anything if all my new names, twisted and turned and like a shock to the system, have no meaning. If my identity lies in my name and it is taken of my meaning, does this mean that within my identity there is nothing? I think of Adam and Samantha, Ryan and Kristin and so many names; is there some profound belief that I was born knowing how to pronounce their names? I’m just going to call you ______, like something that would be said to a stray dog, collarless, now rescued. But still I feel like my name is a crime, or an odd thing, an aberration.

I have been thinking a lot about my name late, and I think of the term “diversity” too and the way it is spoken of — more diversity in the workplace, more diversity in the home space – and still, no one can say my name. I am instead a box that is checked off, devoid of any deeper meaning.

image – Kathy Ponce