How I Learned to Love My Name

It’s not everyday you meet a person named Ariam. Beyond this past summer, I don’t recall the last time I met someone with my name.  My mother, whom is naturally chatty, engaged in dialogue with another shopper inside a clothing story in Ketema, Asmara. She was a brown woman with broad shoulders and appeared in her 40s. Her name was Ariam. But that’s it. My name is not common in America or Eritrea, though in the past few years non-Eritreans have picked up on its origins. Ariam derives from Ge’ez, the parental language of Tigrinya. My name in Ge’ez means “Semiaye Semai’at”. That’s English for “heavens of the heavens” revealed a ministry worker slash deacon in Eritrea in 2014. This was after he first asked if I had known the meaning of my name. No, I replied. In defense, I said “Why ask me a question you already know the answer to?” A little brash, I know. So the meaning of Ariam has ties to the heavens. And not just the heavens, but above the heavens. I will accept it and took this opportunity to school my parents who chose my name after a friend suggested it to them in the early 90s. Another fun fact: I was almost named Yohanna, which means “congratulations” in Tigrinya.

During my adolescence, I dreaded telling others my name. They’d butcher my name. And throughout the years, I became used to having my name mispronounced that I soon began introducing myself in ways I didn’t want to. Over the years, I’ve heard Ariam said in many voices.

Below is a list of Ariam in its variation. I’ve written out the syllables to give you an auditory sense as well. ‘A-ree-im’ ‘Ah-ree-om’ ‘Ah-ree-ah-nah’ ‘Ah-ree-el’ ‘Ah-ree-an’ ‘Ah-reem’ Eritreans screw it up, too. ‘Ah-dee-ahm’ ‘Ma-ree-ahm’ Apart of me dreaded the start of a new school year. Because it meant that teachers would fail at their attempt in saying my name which resulted in others that parroted their pronunciation failed as well. But I always knew when my name would be called next and instead of waiting for them to mispronounce it, I’d quickly say ‘I’m here!’ whatsinaname It slowly became the norm. My name didn’t sound right in anybody’s mouth – anybody who wasn’t really family or apart the community. So I chose to refer to myself using the most commonly mispronounced variations (Ah-ree-om and ‘A-ree-im’) because those names seemed the easiest for people to pronounce. I began to resent my name. For one, it already sounded foreign. And two I didn’t feel right saying it. It wasn’t until I got older where people started asking and pressing me for the right pronunciation. A high school once asked me “How would you like me to pronounce your name?” I stood speechless. I wasn’t expecting this type of confrontation. After a moment of introspection, I said call me ‘Ah-ree-ahm’. All along I felt obligated to accommodate others and give them a watered-down, second-rate version of my name while assuming it would be mispronounced. And perhaps there will always be someone who can’t say my name. A person who can’t roll his r’s or prefer his a’s to sound like the beginning of ‘apple’ and not ‘amish’ or misinterprets my ‘m’ for an ‘n’. But I love my name. It’s different. It has culture. It’s full of flair and meaning. I even tattooed it (in Ge’ez letters) on my left wrist. I finally appreciate my name and I don’t tell my mother that I wish she had named me something else anymore. My name is Ariam. You may call me Ah-ree-ahm. http://vocaroo.com/i/s1ZDFXHuYaYj

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13 thoughts on “How I Learned to Love My Name

      1. My middle name is Alula (ah-loo-lah). Hmm, interesting take. I never thought about it. Perhaps they feel it’ll be wrong either ways. People should either spell it out then ask for the proper pronounciation.

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  1. I really enjoyed this, Ariam! I remember that one day in the first grade that I was gonna tell people my name was Laura instead of Lwam. But my mom wasn’t having that. I sometimes still tell people to call me “Lu” instead of “Lwam” after I see them struggle a bit. And every time I do, I feel regret for doing so. Loved this, and I know many of us can relate.

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    1. Lwamina,

      You’re hilarious. Laura seems like the perfect American rendition of “Lwam”. Gin, adekyi wasn’t having it. Respect.

      Acceptance has tremendously shifted for myself as it sounds like it has for you. I normally never shorten my name although there’s always this moment of introspection of how to pronounce “Ariam.” If I were you, I probably would probably compress my name to “Lu” too. It makes a great nickname!

      Thanks so much for the read & comment. I always love connecting w| you.

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  2. Ariam, I enjoyed this article because it is so much a mirror of my own life living with this name! I use my middle name Dela, and a shortened version of my first name, “Mae” as my blogger profile. Still working through the psychological trauma, but definitely have taken a stand when people want to nickname me beyond casual association. You WILL be corrected (when I have the energy and focus to do so, not in Starbucks, lol)! It is seh-LOW-MAY.

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  3. your name is mad-LY beautiful. i’m cringing even thinking about how individuals have butchered it. but this reflection is a testament to all of us with eccentric names. be proud of it! if you learn nothing else from my words, i want you to know that you (and your name) are gifts to this world. we may not have always believed this, but now we’re older and know better. so glad the piece resonated with you.

    excited for the next time we meet!

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  4. Haha…Awesome!!! Same thing with my name…so many mispronunciations throughout the years. I take either two pronunciations with “i” being silent or “i” being heard in mine. It never really bothers me though when people mispronounce or change it. lol..Funny, so many say it’s too long. I’m like, “Really, three syllables is too long- Tai/wan/da?” So, I’ve had so many nicknames made for me where some may call me them without informing me that they’re referring to me. Lol…Then, they ask me why I didn’t answer them, didn’t I hear them, and when I ask them about what they said or where, they say, I was calling T (or some other nickname they made up). Go figure. And they wonder why they got no answer. lol… 🙂 Love your name, by the way!

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    1. When I first saw you online, I knew you and I were connected through the novelty of our names. I debated over how to say your name with those options actually. I’m a little surprised to hear they’re accurate! I vocalized a similar occurrence about people who have questioned whether my name could be shortened, or assigned one to me without my blessing at a recent event on identity. A friend of mine in the audience said a teacher once mispronounced his name and rather than correcting that instructor, the friend remained silent and eventually confronted the teacher when learning he was marked absent. He goes, “you didn’t say my name right, so I didn’t say present.” You also would’ve been absent, LOL. Although innocent at times, we need to demand autonomy over our names.

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