Friday, March 14, 2008

Good News for Audio Science Clayton and Every Other Person with a Bizarro Name

“Excuse me, is your name Rachel?”

A few years ago, I was at a movie theater in El Paso, Tex., when one of the employees there stopped me to pose this question.

I shook my head “no” and went on my way. I doubt the majority of Americans would have even remembered this exchange, but, to me, this moment was significant. “Me?” I remember thinking. “Could I be a Rachel?”

I wondered how much simpler life would be if I was named Rachel instead of Nadra. My name has always been a sore spot for me. In second grade or so, I came home from school one day and told my mother that I’d had it with my name. As soon as I was of age, I would change it.

My mother, who has the perfectly common name of Abby, didn’t challenge me on this. She seemed to sense that I could not be dissuaded from changing my name. The problem was that I never came up with an alternative moniker for myself, so I continued to be Nadra until, at some point, it just fit.

Still, I can’t help but to consider my name a nuisance of sorts. In my line of work—journalism—I have to introduce myself to people on a regular basis. This means that I have to spell my name to strangers on a regular basis. Often, they still get it wrong. I’ve gotten three emails this week in which my name was misspelled. In the two I received in the past 24 hours, one person referred to me as Nadre, totally ignoring the correct spelling of my name visible in the addressee line of the email. Another person addressed me as Karen. I’m assuming this is because Karen is somewhat similar to my last name, Kareem. And, in an email I received in the beginning of the week, I was called my favorite, Nada, which means “nothing” in Spanish.

The fact that my name is so often butchered makes me feel like nothing to an extent. It’s as if my odd name renders me invisible. When people decide to call me whatever is most convenient for them, rather than what my parents chose to call me at birth, they are, in effect, erasing me.

Then, there are the mispronunciations. I am frequently called Nay-druh (my name is pronounced “Nah-druh”) or Naa-dra, as in gonad-ra. Others are bent on making my name more complicated than it is, calling me Nadria, for example. But the ultimate rejection is when someone simply refuses to bother saying my name, rendering it unpronounceable. If my name was, say, Nagheenanajar, as in the character Samir’s last name from “Office Space,” I could understand. But the fact that it is five letters and two syllables and that pretty much anyone who can pronounce the name Sandra can pronounce my name, makes this claim a bit hard to swallow.

I also have to deal with the fact that my name is politically charged due to its Arabic origin. Nadra means “rare” in the language, and Kareem means “generous.” In a post-9/11 world, I’ve had people offer their sympathies to me for having such a name. Others respond to it with curiosity. They’re excited by the possibility that they’ve encountered a real live Muslim. And, in church, I’ve, on occasion, been eyed with suspicion. “Your name’s Kareem,” a fellow churchgoer rather snidely asked me. “Are you a Muslim?”

When I explained that, no, I wasn’t, but my father was, her reaction was mixed. She seemed relieved that I wasn’t a Muslim but dismayed that my father was. I seriously believe she was wondering why I wasn’t praying for his soul at that moment.

In short, these experiences collectively have made me wonder again and again if life would be somehow better for me with a different name. The New York Times recently printed an article—“A Boy Named Sue, and a Theory of Names”—about this very subject. The title alludes to Johnny Cash’s song “A Boy Name Sue,” which posited that someone with an odd name could grow up to be relatively well adjusted.

Today, there’s evidence that Cash may have been right, writer John Marion Tierney said. Tierney cited a book called “Bad Baby Names,” by Michael Sherrod and Matthew Rayback, in which the authors interviewed people with names such as Mary Christmas, River Jordan, Rasp Berry and Happy Day. Oddly enough, none of them were traumatized by the names. Even more surprising was that they weren’t teased much for having such unusual monikers.

For the article, Tierney interviewed a developmental psychologist at George Mason University named Dr. Martin Ford. “Names only have a significant influence when that is the only thing you know about the person,” Dr. Ford told Tierney. “Add a picture, and the impact of the name recedes. Add information about personality, motivation and ability, and the impact of the name shrinks to minimal significance.”

This leads me to the question: Have I been making too much of my name? Maybe life, or my personality, wouldn’t be much different if I were named Rachel or something just as common.

So why do celebrities such as gorgeous actress/DJ Shannyn Sossamon (pictured) give their children names like Audio Science? According to Sherrod, today it’s all about individuality. And, yes, people have responded to my name with genuine interest because it is so uncommon. My name has earned me more compliments than I can remember. Because it is very common in the Muslim country of Pakistan, each Pakistani I meet automatically seems to feel a kinship with me. A Pakistani coworker of my mother even brought me back traditional clothes from the country, and, at the time, she hadn’t even met me! Repeatedly, I find that those familiar with my name are extremely excited to meet me, to tell me about its origins and its Arabic pronunciation, as well as about its male counterpart, Nadir, or longer female version, Nadira. (Think Indira Gandhi).

These are some of the perks of having a rare name, I guess. I’m grateful that the New York Times article has given me more of a reason to dwell on the positives of my name rather than to continue viewing it as a source of frustration. As for my own children—if I have them, that is—I’m not likely to name them something as far out as Audio Science, but I don’t want them to have a name as common as, say, Melissa or as trendy, as, say, Madison. My thinking is that they’d do best with something in-between.


TheeCocoaJoJo said...

I can empathize. My name is Joane, said like Jo-Ann, and always said/typed incorrectly.

Gonzalo said...

Old thread but interesting none the less....Nadra is an ok name, since it is kind of unique, it even has a meaning on a different language.....I lived in the states when I was a kid, and my name, Gonzalo, is pretty common in Spanish speaking countries, so if they asked for my name, I said I was spanish, and that would be it.

but Audio Science? That's kinda going too far. The mother is pleading for her kid to get beaten and made fun of everyday in school. That kind of traumatic childhood is something that no kid deserves, and only because the mother her kid to be unique. One's uniqueness doesn't have to come with the name, but with their actions and behavior.

Gonzalo said...

" and only because the mother WANTS her kid to be unique"

sorry for the lack of words...

theogunbasemom said...

My husband's name is Olayemi Ogunbase. His father was from Nigeria. We gave our boys Nigerian first names...but nothing as eccentric as "Audio Science".

Ivy said...

Old post, but i thought I would comment.

I actually like the name Audia Science, I don't see anything wrong with it. I never understood why kids were made fun of because of their names, I understand maybe because of their behavior or actions, but never a name. You can make fun of anyones name and a person is only going to be made fun of if they are unliked and so forth. I think having a "strange" name is a great conversation starter.

Anonymous said...

You mentioned name Nada. It's common name for girls here in Serbia, and in our language it means ''hope''.

Paige said...

Excellent post, Nadra! I feel exactly the same way! I have an uncommon first name and definitely an uncommon last name. (Let's just say it's of Dutch origin and more than one word!) I've had to put up with endless misspellings and taunts. Since I understand what it's like to have my first name and last name misspelled/mispronounced, I'm more aware of the correct spelling/pronunciation of other people's names. I guess that's the silver lining in having an "odd" name! The funny thing is that my friends with common names tell me they wish that they had uncommon names! Most days, I've learned to accept my full name and remind myself that others who have a problem with it probably aren't the brightest in the world! ;)

Ant said...

I think unique names are nice, ESPECIALLY ethnic names.Being Chinese but being named Olayemi is absurd, but Nadra s beautiful! I'm ASSUMING you're of Pakistani descent? My daughter's name is Aria (accent on the first A). I think it's unique but not weird. Then again, I've been wrong before.

YourMom said...

Oh, I know EXACTLY how you feel. my name is raquel And you might think it's very common, but not where I live! And when I was little I was picked on so badly because of it! Sometimes I still do, and you can't say it's cos of my behaviour; I'm a very nice person!

Kids these days are really mean.

They're not simply 'being kids' or 'enjoying childhood'. This comes from the thoughts of a person whose childhood evaporated only four years ago (I'm fourteen): Kids are the meanest creatures in the world. My little sister, (8) can reassure. She gets picked on so much because she has only ONE friend. Ugh I'm dying to go to her school and tell them 'B***HES IT'S BECAUSE YOU PICK ON HER INSTEAD OF BEING HER FRIEND!!'.

Well, back to the subject; also, well, you might think that having a common name but spelt differently (Mikayla, spelled Mikahlia) is cool and unique...well, in my country, it means that the parents are so ignorant they don't even know how to spell their own kid's name. Like if your name's Jason but your parents spelt it Yheison, you get picked on for the rest of your life.

Anonymous said...

Your name is beautiful. Very nice blog, thanks.