Hello, My Name Is

Hamzeh wrote an interesting post about living in a linguistically challenged society (i.e. America) where one’s name is rendered unpronounceable. It inspired me to recollect some of my own musings on the same subject.

Like Hamzeh my name, Naseem, has only two syllables yet every time someone reads my name it’s always in the form of a question? Na-zeem? And that’s another thing, why do they insist itâ??s a “Z” when there’s no “Z” in my name?! I’m thinking of adding a hyphen between “Nas” and “eem”.

I guess a lot of people, Arabs too, change their names once they get to this side of the world, but I could never do that. What’s a person without his name? You kind of have to force the environment around you to change. Imagine Oprah had listened to everyone’s advice and changed her name? I was actually told on several occasions that I should consider changing my name to, you know, better “adapt”. As if my being born here and speaking native English wasn’t an effort on my part to “adapt”. And I tell these people I could never do that and they say “well the Asians do it all the time, what’s so tough about changing your name?â? In my head I am channelling John Proctor from The Crucible, screaming: “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life!”

As for my last name, “Tarawnah”, forget about it. That is a linguistic mine field for anyone in the western hemisphere and I don’t exactly blame them; it’s one of those names that requires an Arabian tongue to operate it. I got a call from one guy who stuttered and struggled over it for about 30 seconds (to my amusement) before he resolved to renaming me “Thomson” (not to my amusement). During the first year or so it felt almost insulting: going from an environment where everyone knows the name to an environment where no one can pronounce it; itâ??s a culture shock. But now I just have fun with it. I let people struggle and struggle and when they make an attempt to say it as a question I just say “Excuse you me? What did you call me?” and they struggle (out of fear theyâ??ve just insulted me in a foreign language) for another 5 minutes and I wait patiently, smiling, entertainedâ?¦

…and that’s Wednesday.


  • lol!

    I feel ya
    nas, try looking quizzically at them and innocently saying, sorry i didnâ??t understand what you just said

  • Well, I’m an Arab living in the Arab world carrying an ancient Arabic name but I feel you!

    I have to spell my name to people at least 5 times a day, and then I have to swear that I’m not a Mr.

  • also the north american pronunciation changes the meaning, here are a few

    from FARIS to FERRIS (from Knight to wheel)


    BASIL TO BASIL ( from Brave to Herb)

    but its true what Naseem said whatâ??s a person without his name? I am sure with some practice they can get it right



  • Probably the only Arabic name that is being pronounced correctly these days is Osama!
    All the rest, well … kinda hit and miss thing, Moohaameed is close and Akhhmeed has nothing to do with Ahmad!
    What surprises me the most is that the letters are ALL THERE! My friend Samar would always have someone call her Zaymar Zaimer or Sameer! I have no idea where Sameer (or Samir) came from (Turns out, many Indians are called Samir, and therefore it’s getting more exposure)
    Seattle is pretty much a cosmopolitan city, but who knows what the Midwest would make of our names! Imagine Quwaider!! HUH!!! good luck!

  • lol you know linguistic differences could get more serious, why go too far? Last year when my grandma’s maid arrived from Sirilanka, we had hard time memorizing her name, which was Tsumina (if I get it right)… so for a while we called her: Tsunami… till we finally got the hang of Tsumina. My grandmother still calls her “salima or salamo” 😀

    So you have to be grateful for NaZeem 😀 Well, if it makes you feel any better, linguistically speaking Z and S are the same, alveolar frecative sounds, only differring in voicing! 😀

  • On the other hand, this recurrent phonetic error is a precious reminder that the name- and probably more- is not yet integrated and digested. I mean it is a precious sign not for the one who commits the error (he/she cannot even listen to it, probably) but for you, who gets misrecognized.

  • I know what you meen, but you see Hamzah’s case is worse than yours, you can have a nickname of Nas so close friends can call you Nas where as he has to be called Hamzah (Hamzeh) all the time so its like double your troubles…. but i still see that its hard for you too

  • Fad, will do


    Quwaider, loool you made me relieved about my name…dont wanna be in your shoes 😉

    Ola, “linguistically speaking Z and S are the same” oh no..there’s a difference trust me!

    Vas, yeah but why is it such a precious reminder?

    O.A., yeah that’s true.

  • Haha, funny. That was why I decided to change the spelling of my name in the 6th grade to “Roba”. I was always surrounded by foreigners, infact, up until 11th grade, we were only 3 Arabs in class, and everyone had a really, really hard time pronouncing “Ruba”. They would stress like crazy on the u, and it would sound like “Ruuuuuuuuba”, and it would piss me off… So I changed it to “Roba”, which they still mispronounced, and with people generally pronounce “Rowba”, but it’s still better than “Ruuuuuuuuba”!
    And God.. I will not even start with “Al-Assi”.

  • Well, even though I’m not Arab, I can definitely relate. People would automatically anglicise my first name to “Elizabeth” instead of Elizabeta, or they italianise it to “Elisabetta” (in spelling). In pronounciation it often became “Elizabeeeeta”. The last name… well, that was another adventure. The Slovenian letter “Ž” (which is pronounced like “zh” in Zhivago) became a Z. I never let them get away with it. My brothers on the other hand, had no quams with anglicising their names. I kind of think it makes you lose part of your identity.
    Well, a funny story about pronouncing last names: When I was in high-school, we had a chemistry teacher who said he would give an “A” to anyone who could pronounce his last name. He wrote it out on the board: “SZCZGYL”…
    Everyone automatically looked at me, assuming that I’d be able to figure it out…. Now, I didn’t know where this guy was from (SZ can be “s” in hungarian, “sh” in other languages…) and he wouldn’t tell us, so I just said “SMITH”. The response got a lot of laughs, but still had to do work to get the A.

  • Nas out of the subject it seems that you will be getting a camera instead of the ipod… cause you know these ‘pitty’ votes your getting… it seems that they are too many people voting for you:P
    you got mine…

  • O.A. lol actually I think people got a little confused and voted for the Top 10 of the month instead of the design competition, which explains why so many people voted for my Top 10 ranking in the past day or so. So I probably won’t win anything. Sigh. thanks for the vote though 😀

    Beti, lol what a way to get a grade 😀

  • And thatâ??s another thing, why do they insist itâ??s a â??Zâ? when thereâ??s no â??Zâ? in my name?! Iâ??m thinking of adding a hyphen between â??Nasâ? and â??eemâ?.

    in most dialects of english an “s” is pronounced like a “z” if it’s next to a vowel (e.g. “easy”, “basil”. it also explains why a lot of english speakers call the religion “izlam”). it’s not a rule you learn in school, most native english speakers are unaware of it.

    if you want to make it stop, you might try doubling the “s” (which might be a little harder for you to take, as double consonants often changes a word’s pronunciation and meaning in arabic (e.g. “darasa” vs. “darrasa”). even though it usually doesn’t do either in english. so maybe “nasseem” looks like something completely different to you, but as an american i would probably pronounce it about the same as “naseem.”

    the hyphen might also work, but it runs the risk of having people think “eem” is your surname

  • What gets me is that when you listen to the BBC or meet any westerner that’s spent a significant amount of time in the Middle East, they pronounce names like “Mohamed” correctly. Or as close to the “7a” sound as they can get. So it is possible after all.

    American (and possibly Canadians) and their lack of exposure to our culture is the issue I think. Maybe Naseem or Faris aren’t common names, but Mohamed, Ahmed and Omar aren’t that difficult!

  • RocketRay, hmm me thinks that one’s already taken and to be fair people were calling me Nas long before the rapper 😀

    Ù?Ù?Ù?در, lol I guess that goes to show that even a name change isn’t necessarily the answer to one’s problem 😉

    upyernoz, lol so basically I’m screwed. But thanks for the info, I actually never paid attention to that.

    Alb Sayed, my father used to say there are letters in the Arabic language that only Arabs were biologically born with the ability to pronounce like “9” and the “7”, which is why if a foreigner spoke the language for years and years you could still listen to them and know it’s not their native tongue.

  • Ok, so my name is Bushra.. you’d think its not so hard right, considering the fact that the president of the US’s last name is pretty much 2/3rds of my name… but nooo.. ppl just have a hard time pronouncing it. If they read it off a paper, they dont butcher it as much, but if i introduce myself as “Bushra”, i always get: “its so nice to meet you Mushtra” or “Mushktra” never Bushra with a B.

  • Bushra, lool don’t you love it when you meet someone and they say “it’s so nice to meet you Mushtra” in a way that makes you feel they’re correcting your pronounciation of your own name?! Like that’s what it should be 😀

  • Salaam,

    Man, I wish I’d have seen this post earlier. What do you think do with mine? Yeap, that’s right they make it Jewish, by putting an ‘H’ in it. And make it two syllables. I guess they can be forgiven for making it two instead of a proper Is-Ma’-eel.

    My son is Nasser and at the tender age of 6 we have already heard: Nazza’ , Nas (did not even bother to finish), Nas-er

    My son Ali: is Ollie or Alley.

  • Ismail, Yeah it figures, I knew as soon as I read your name that you’d be renamed Ishmael. And while you and Nasser are a bit understandable I don’t know why Ali should have a problem. It’s strange because “Ali” has become quite common place, perhaps right after Mohammad and Ahmad.

  • My son has a name that, it seems, no one can quite get right: ‘Amr (‘aiyn-meen-ra-wow). Americans call him Ah-maar, Eh-meer, or Elmer. Arabs like to call him Omar (which, at four, drives him insane: imagine a wee Jordanian shouting NO-MY-NAME-IS-‘AMR!).

    Who are we kidding? Even I can’t pronounce his name correctly, although I’m getting closer. My husband just insisted that we had to name our first son ‘Amr because that’s what his mom wanted… *sigh*

    I named the next baby: Adam. See? Easy on everyone. 🙂

  • b. 3amer is a tough name…it’s the 3ein that’s probably causing all the trouble. It’s one of those letter only Arabs can pronounce perfectly (except for those calling him Omar whom I guess are probably just teasing). And yeah your husband has to make the mother happy, it’s an unwritten rule when it comes to baby naming.

    Adam is nice, a lot of people now are focusing on names that work in both sides of the world. Adam is one of the few that runs perfectly in both worlds. But some are getting out of hand, they’re just pure foreign names.

Your Two Piasters: