Yasmine: Let’s talk names!
Bayan: Haha oh God, ‘names’ is a sensitive subject. I’ve been traumatised with my name. Both first and last. Countless stories.
Bayan: The ‘Bye-Anne’ joke still haunts me today. Dahdah provides an infinite amount of jokes and nicknames and sounds.
Samar: I was Sameer, Suma, Same-are. One of my teachers (a white lady) called me Sumo for months even though I corrected her every single lesson (which was twice a week).
Bayan: Even amongst Arabs by the way, sometimes mostly amongst Arabs. They’re not the most common names. I literally used to dread having my name called out on the register.
Samar: Yes, that dreaded pause! Sam… eer? Same-are? Soom-er? Za… dat? Zeedat?
Bayan: Hahah. The dreaded pause I know all too well. I wish I could make a montage of all the versions of my name I’ve heard.
Yasmine: I always felt bad when Samar would come home and tell me who called her what each day at school. I think because I’m white-passing, I feel like I manage to ‘get away’ with a name like Yasmine. Despite introducing myself as Yasmine (pronounced Yas-meen) I would continue to be referred to as Yasmin (Yaz-min) at school. I admittedly lost the motivation to constantly correct people, and even began referring to myself as Yasmin. And for a while, dropping an ‘e’ from my name seemed trivial, but it served to chip away an important part of my identity. This is where the privilege comes in – due to the fact that I am white-passing, people wouldn’t question my ethnicity as much when I introduced myself as Yasmin.
Bayan: Yeah, I get that Yasmine. I still change the pronunciation of my name depending on who I’m introducing myself to. Just can’t be bothered for five minutes of correcting them.
Samar: It did mess with my identity for sure as well, I remember as a young teenager (before I found out about intersectional feminism) I really really wanted to change my name.
Bayan: Yes Samar, I actually remember you telling me you wanted to do that.
Samar: I began introducing myself as ‘Summer’ because it made my life much easier. And it made conversations quickly change from “Sameer? Sumor?”, to “Summer? What a gorgeous name!”.
Bayan: What does your name mean in Arabic Samar?
Samar: It means like a ‘late night party’ or ‘chatting late at night’ (which I now recognise as SO me and SO badass). It’s a shame that I wanted to change it so badly. I felt I had to make myself ‘more white’ to fit in, rather than challenge white people around me to accommodate my culture.
Yasmine: Yesss – this always brings to mind an interview I read of Orange is the New Black Actress Uzo Aduba and how her mother said “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka”.
Samar: YES YASMINE! What about you Bayan?
Bayan: Yes about Uzo! Also, Samar that name was meant for you. And the thing is most Arab names have really -meaningful-, sometimes poetic meanings which I love! And which is why I asked. And then my name was destroyed on a day-to-day basis. My name means clarity (how ironic), or an announcement.
Yasmine: Haha Bayan that’s brilliant.
Bayan: My last name is three letters repeated, and is still impossible to get right.
Yasmine: I think for me I kind of grew to love my last name – especially because my initials are YZ (the last two letters of the alphabet). Even if it did mean I was always at the end of every class register (and the entire school’s register).
Samar: Mmmm.. even though I love my name now, it’s still an exhausting name to have. Living in the UK, people butcher it all the time. It’s not simply that they don’t know how to pronounce it that bothers me (that’s understandable) it’s that they make no effort to try. More often than not, they’ll just read the name out off the paper, or hear it the first time I say it, and then just decide how they want to say it themselves. And when I correct them (which I do, on principle) they make it super awkward and act like I’m the one being difficult? It’s really easy to ask how to say it right!
Yasmine: Yess, I definitely try to make a point of correcting people now for the sake of trying to establish my own identity too. I felt like people would judge me when I wouldn’t correct people who called me Yasmin. Some people would call me out for trying to be someone I’m not? Others would think it was because they thought I was ashamed of being Arab, when really it was just because other people were too lazy to pronounce it correctly. I even had a teacher who called me ‘Jazz’ for three years in primary school.
Samar: Hahaha, yes, I remember that! I’m never going to let anyone make me feel bad about my name again! Regulating yourself in order to make white people feel comfortable is exhausting and hurtful – especially because it’s at the expense of your own identity and culture.
Bayan: I need to start correcting people more. I pride myself on being really good with names!
Yasmine: Bayan, I feel like you do because you know the struggle is real!!
Samar: You should Bayan!
Bayan: Yes! I’ve literally asked people five times to repeat their name to me if I don’t catch it the first time. I like to get it right. And I never forget names.
Bayan Dahdah is a Palestinian architect turned filmmaker, with some photographs in between, and based in Doha, Qatar. With either her head in the clouds or her body at the ocean floor, she’s always got a camera in hand. She is also currently working on her first short film, but you can follow her semi-adventures on twitter, instagram, and her website, or you can read her articles here.
Samar Ziadat is a postgraduate student in modern and contemporary art history at the University of Edinburgh. When she’s not ranting about intersectional feminism, she’s either curled up with a book or her cat. You can follow her on instagram and twitter, or read her articles here.nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn
Yasmine Ziadat is an undergraduate history and politics student with an interest in current affairs and sassing the patriarchy. If she’s not taking selfies or watching cat videos, you can find her exploring London in search of coffee, music and museums. You can follow her on instagram, twitter, or read her dardishi articles here.