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!’ 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