Having A Name Pronounced Differently Based On Your Culture
Community

My Name Is Sarah, But How I Say It Depends On Who You Are

For minorities, there is a lingering burden to conform. Many feel involuntarily apologetic about displaying their culture or ethnicity in their face, their hair, their accent, their skin, their name.

445
My Name Is Sarah, But How I Say It Depends On Who You Are
Sarah Ahmed

You know at least three or four girls with the name. It's one of the names you always see on a keychain at any gift store, along with a Matthew, Daniel, and Mary. Oh, the joys of having a biblical, white-normative name. That's my name, Sarah: except maybe not the Sarah you've heard before.

My parents intended for my name to be pronounced like "Sah-ra" (like "Zara" with an S). It's still spelled S-A-R-A-H. In fact, it's just the Arabic pronunciation of the same name. But the two pronunciations fundamentally shaped my experience and how I view myself. I wonder if my parents knew, with me growing up in New Jersey, how unlikely it would be that others would actually call me Sah-ra. My true name. Did they know I wouldn't correct the teacher calling my name from the roster on the first day of school? Did they realize that I'd be one of two (sometimes three) Sarahs in my elementary school classes and that I'd be referred to as Sarah A., rather than Sah-ra, to distinguish myself? I wonder if they knew how weird it would be to not know what mixture of sounds would be sung each time I hear "Happy Birthday dear..." when I sit in front of the birthday cake.

Maybe they didn't know. Or maybe they knew, and they were intentionally trying to make my life as a first-generation Indian American girl easier. You know, help me assimilate a little better.

I don't look like the other Sarahs I know. I've never felt like one of them. At the same time, I feel different from other people who were given names that align with their ethnicity (not better, just different,) There are weird feelings that are inherently built into my experience, and I can't exactly explain them to people who can't relate.

It's normal for me to have two real names. Two names that I consider are really me, at my core. It's natural for me to introduce myself as either Sarah or Sah-ra, depending on who you are. If you're family or a family friend, I'm Sah-ra. If you're anyone else, I'm Sarah. At some point very early on, I decided it was too difficult to have to tell every single person that no, they're wrong, it's actually pronounced this other, stranger way. Can you imagine doing that every time?

So that's why I'm also regular, plain-old Sarah. She's thoroughly absorbed into me.

Is it OK that my identity at any given moment is determined not entirely by me, but by those around me?

But then, isn't that how we all live? We, as American children of non-White, non-Christian, non-American parents, who feel like we don't really fit into any one category?

My name is a channel through which I recognize my various identities. The mix of complex cultural identities that first-generation Americans experience is a subject that I don't feel entirely qualified to write about. But I know that in my personal experience, it feels like all of my identities are bubbles deep underwater within myself, and they are constantly and simultaneously trying to rise to the top. It feels like when I say my name as Sarah, I am pushing my Indian and Muslim bubbles back under the water and allowing the American bubble to emerge on the surface. It's like they can't all show at once.

I definitely experience privilege with my name. I know there are hundreds of thousands of first-generation children in the West with phonetically-ambiguous names. Even my two older sisters have unique, non-Western names. I am privileged in the fact that no one has ever mocked me for having a "strange" or hard-to-pronounce name, and I can't say my "struggle" is really much of a struggle at all. It's not.

For minorities, there is a lingering burden to conform. Many feel involuntarily apologetic about displaying their culture or ethnicity in their face, their hair, their accent, their skin, their name. They struggle to justify their inherent differentness with proud displays of Westernization. It's unfortunate, but we often change things about ourselves for the comfort of others. It's our way of saying: see? We're one of you.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I know that I'm grateful for my name and all of its beautiful sounds. I like that it manages to show various sides of myself simultaneously. But in the end, what's in a name?

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Swoon

119 People Reveal How The Pandemic Has Affected Their Love Lives, And Honestly... Relatable

"I haven't been able to get out of the 'talking phase' with anyone."

The reality is, there's no part of life the pandemic hasn't affected. Whether it's your work life, your home life, your social life, or your love life, coronavirus (COVID-19) is wreaking havoc on just about everything — not to mention people's health.

When it comes to romance, in particular, people are all handling things differently and there's no "right way" of making it through, regardless of your relationship status (single, taken, married, divorced, you name it). So, some of Swoon's creators sought out to hear from various individuals on how exactly their love lives have been affected since quarantine began.

Keep Reading... Show less

Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B just dropped the hottest summer single yet. It's called "WAP" and we're going to get into all the intoxicating lyrics.

This song empowers females and their sexuality. These women put the ridiculous music industry female beef to bed, and I mean tucked away in a coma.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

How To Write Down The Holy Grail Recipe Everyone Begs You To Make

Because everyone has a signature cocktail, cake, or pasta they bring to every potluck.

NBC

From back when I used to bring my mom's classic white chocolate chip cookies to preschool on my birthday to now stirring up my signature tequila cocktails at every friends' barbecue, I've always had a couple of standby recipes in my culinary rotation.

Keep Reading... Show less
Adulting

Meet My Cat: Cheshire, The Stray Turned House Cat Who Lives in Michigan

I never considered myself a cat person, but Chess immediately stole my heart.

Madelyn Darbonne

In 2016, a stray cat gave birth to a litter of three grey kittens on my aunt and uncle's property. I had never considered myself to be much of a cat person, but these furballs immediately stole my heart. I got to watch them grow up until they were old enough to leave their mother's side.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

How To Binge-Watch A TV Show —And Then Write A Review About It

Writing your favorite and least favorite things about a show could not be more fun.

Photo by Mollie Sivaram on Unsplash

Looking for a new show to binge? Stop scrolling through your options and listen.

Sometimes a good show doesn't come down to the genre or the actors involved, it comes down to the fact that it is simply a GOOD show. If any of these things sound appealing to you, you should definitely watch.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

11 Reasons Why Getting A Cat Is The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Mental Health

Cats may mess up your puzzles but they'll always love you unconditionally — as long as you have some catnip, that is.

Scout Guarino

Alright, everyone, it's time to stop spreading the rumor that all cats are mean, aloof, and hate everyone. Like dogs, each cat has its own personality and tendencies. Some like a lot of attention, some like less — each person has to find the right cat for them. As for me, my cats Bienfu and Reptar have seen me at my worst, but they've also helped pull me out of it. They're a constant in my life and they give me the strength to get through the day in spite of my depression, and there's even scientific evidence to support it!

Keep Reading... Show less

I've been bleaching my hair since I was in seventh grade. Yes, you read that correctly, seventh grade. That's nearly 10 years of maintaining a very light shade of blonde that too-often brings about dryness and brittle strands.

Keep Reading... Show less

Chances are if you're here, you're probably interested in writing an open letter. Yay! We're excited to have you.

Of course, not all open letters are created equal. In fact, there's a recipe to writing one for Odyssey that'll get featured on one of our many verticals. When it comes to Swoon specifically (for those new around here, that's our dating and relationships vertical), we receive dozens of open letters each month, many of which are all very similar.

Keep Reading... Show less

With a new phone comes great responsibility: Do not break it! And the best way to do that is with a case. However, picking a case can be a challenge. No need to fret, I am here to help break down some of the best cases for the new iPhone SE 2020. Honestly, I think it's going to be impossible to choose!

Keep Reading... Show less

To some who have been out of the dating world for a while, it can be hard to get back into the swing of things after being single for some time. So, I asked 26 people what they think is important to know before looking for love again, here's what they had to say.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments