Whether you are black, yellow, brown, or white, your name is a significant part of your identity. Even if it isn’t chosen by you, it is a representation of your being.
People struggle with my first name so much that I spent years wanting to change it for a simpler, non-Persian one. Even though I like it and think it’s poetic. However, my second name is a far bigger problem because it gives away my parents’ religion (I’m only Muslim by name.)
I’ve seriously considered dropping my instantly recognizable minority surname. I could do without discrimination, and I’d be in the good company of icons like Oprah.
But for years, I’ve been ashamed to be Muslim. I wished I were Hindu, I’ve also wished I were white. I now believe it’s an act of self-care to go by my full name.
In fact, when I started blogging in 2015, I dropped my surname on purpose. Yes, I wanted an allegorical blog name, which is why I went with ‘Mahevash Muses’ instead of ‘Mahevash Shaikh’. But I also didn’t want anyone to write me off.
Islam is the most reviled religion in the world and for good reason. But that doesn’t mean all Muslims are evil. Heck, extremists belong to no faith.
For folks like me, having an ethnic name is a doubly cruel joke. Because people other you instantly and you don’t even have faith to help you deal with their unwarranted hate. But I’m done living in fear and shame. I refuse to hide my identity like this lady in order to fit in. This is an attempt that will ultimately fail anyway.
My name is my identity, so why should I hide it? I refuse to hide parts of me simply to make others feel less uncomfortable. Besides, the effort to fit in has no end. When you are a minority of any kind, people will always find some reason to discriminate.
Let’s not forget that it is a sign of disrespect when someone can’t be bothered to learn how to say your name correctly. Numerous people—professors, colleagues, friends, and strangers—have shortened my name without my consent and I put up with this microaggression for years. If I didn’t, I’d have to tolerate them butchering it even after repeatedly correcting them. I no longer let anyone get away with either of these today, no matter how “difficult” it makes me seem. As Love Island star/scientist Yewande Biala said, “Mispronouncing or changing people’s names is just another form of racism“.
Plus, my visibility may give someone the courage to fight Islamophobia and racism in general. Our world needs more diversity and inclusivity, and I hope my step can help propel us in that direction.
No one deserves to lie and live in fear because of who they are – or who they are perceived to be.
If your name is different, don’t feel shame. Stand up for yourself and tell them to say your name and say it right.