Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Names

Weddings. Most of the time the script goes the same: my mom knows practically everyone, my sister and I hardly know anyone.

This one was no different, except there seemed to be more old ladies than usual, people who used to know my parents when they were kids. They were ecstatic to see mom - apparently they hadn't seen her since her wedding - asking how she was, where she lived now, did she have kids... oh, two girls? Then started the affectionate pinching of cheeks, scrutinizing and commenting on resemblances. Oh, did I forget the Asking and Mispronouncing of Names?

I dislike my name. For one thing, it starts with Z, the last freaking letter of the alphabet, which means I end up last in the class roll-call. Also, my little cousins find it a mouthful as opposed to Hiba. Every time they try to call me, they seem to shoot me a glare that says, "Why can't your name be like your sister's? Hi-ba. Two syllables. Short and sweet!"

No one ever says it right. One of my teachers pronounced it as Za-i-nab, the a and the i separate (It should sound Zay-nab, actually.) Someone else saw me spell my name, thought the second a was a u, and called me Zaynoob. The incident effectively shattered all notions of my handwriting being pretty and legible.

So the Mispronouncing happened at this wedding as well. As usual, I ignored it. Around halfway through the function, when the noises were getting progressively louder and the air felt stuffier and stuffier, an elderly lady occupied the vacant seat beside me.

"Bushra's elder daughter?" she asked me, and I replied in the affirmative. "I can see the similarities," she continued. (I still haven't figured them out yet.)

"Could you tell me your name again, dear?" I did.

Her face suddenly changed. "Zainab? After your father's mother?"

I nodded, taken aback by the reverence in her voice, with undertones of grief, nostalgia and something else I quite couldn't place. I wondered how she knew my grandmother, who'd died in a car accident when my dad was in college. I never found the courage to ask, though.

It's been ages since then and the new faces I met that day have blurred. I am not bothered by this. But I wish I could recall the features of the person who'd reminded me of the one reason why I love my name: that I am a tribute. A living, breathing tribute. It doesn't matter that it's to a person I never knew. My grandmother lives on through my father. She lives in the way my aunt holds the tip of her sari. She lives in the very few photographs I have of her.

She lives on in that voice which reminds me the literal meaning of my name: a fragrant flower. I maybe just a tiny part of the bouquet of life, but I do have a contribution towards the overall scent. I have many lives to touch.

12 comments:

  1. I tend to be pretty sensitive about names; I ask, if I'm not sure how to pronounce, and apologize when I get it wrong. Popping 'round from the A to Z Challenge. Nice to meet you, Zay-nab! (Now, is the emphasis on the first syllable, like ZAY-nab or the second syllable, like zay-NAB?)
    Some Dark Romantic

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    1. Hey there, Mina! Nice to meet you too.

      Emphasize anyway you want :)

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  2. This is so beautiful. It's lovely being a breathing tribute to your grandmother. Also, I love the name Zaynab (not just saying so to be nice). It's one of my favourites.

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  3. I love it! It's unique, and has a beautiful meaning. That's the kind of name to be proud of. :)

    #atozchallenge, Kristen's blog: kristenhead.blogspot.com

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  4. I really enjoyed your touching journey to loving your name. It reads beautifully to me.

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    1. I'm touched that you find it beautiful. Thank you.

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  5. I think it's a great name. Sometimes we just need to "get" the story.

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    1. And that 'getting' is what's hard sometimes. Thanks for sharing your opinion, Jen :)

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  6. This is so touching. I love it, and I love your name. It's beautiful!

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