Making Peace with My Name
by Ferida Wolff
My father and I were chatting on our way home from visiting his sister in
when he asked me if my name was a burden to me. I didn’t know how to answer him. New York
It used to be. Growing up with a different name in a world of Susans and Carols was hard with a name like Ferida. People never pronounced my name right and I was too shy for most of my childhood to correct them. I lived with being called Frieda, my cousin’s name, or I answered to mispronunciations while I cringed inside. The one time in junior high school that I worked up the courage to politely tell my teacher how my name was actually pronounced, she withered me with her icy glare and said that in her day, a pupil would have been so grateful that the teacher knew who she was that she wouldn’t care how her the teacher said her name. She continued pronouncing it the way she pleased and I was too cowed to say another word about it.
I also got teased a lot by the kids.
“What is that?” one boy asked. “A flower? A state?”
“Sounds like a disease,” said another.
Girls were usually kinder. Either they made the effort to find out how to say my name or they ignored me completely, which was fine with me. I just wanted to get lost in the crowd. I used to envy my girlfriends who had names that didn’t sound as if they were spitting when they said them. Norma. Ellen. Brenda. I bet they didn’t cry in their pillows the night before the new school year started, anticipating the agonies of being introduced to a whole new group of teachers and kids.
One year, my best friend decided to change her perfectly good and pronounceable first name. She asked everyone to call her by her middle name, Candace. Then she shortened it to Candy. What I wouldn’t have given to not only possess a middle name, which I didn’t, but to have one I could shorten!
I had a nickname but that was just as problematic. My family called me Feri. Kids and grownups alike made fun of it. I became Ferry Boat and Ferris Wheel. It sometimes got perverted to Furry, which set off enough free associating to keep a shrink employed for a lifetime. I tried on other nicknames that would be more familiar to the general population. Freddie.
Dee. Fern. None of them felt right. They were more foreign to me than the contortions my name was put to. So I struggled with my given name, all that time I wondering, What could my parents have been thinking?
Actually, I knew. I had been named for my grandmother who came from the
Middle East. Her name was Farida. My parents were honoring my grandmother by giving me the closest, most beautiful name they could think of. But in Susan’s , I was doomed. America
Somewhere along the way, there was a shift in naming. Children born in the sixties often had names like Summer or River. I fantasized about what life might have been like with a name like Spring. I daydreamed that I was called January or even better, the French Janvier. Ooh, that coated my tongue like Ghiradelli chocolate. So what if I was born in July.
More Asian names started cropping up in my neighborhood. And beautiful Hindu names. African American names that sang. Jennifer was spelled Gennifer or Jennipher. And no one cared! When I had a daughter, I named her Stephanie but it could as easily have been Steffani, Stephanee or Stefeny and she would not have had to go through what I endured. I was glad for the proliferation of different names.
Over the years, my sensitivity to my name eased. I stopped feeling the knot in my stomach whenever introductions were made. I thought it might even be an advantage to a writer to have an unusual name. No one could pronounce it but they sure never forgot it.
Then one day, my whole perspective changed. I had the privilege of being invited to a Sufi wedding. The bride graciously introduced me to the imam who had performed the ceremony. When he heard my name, he gasped. Then he grabbed me and kissed me on both cheeks. He said that the syllables of my name mean Heavenly Paradise. Wow. Who could ask for a better name?
My name is still pronounced wrong most of the time and people still make funny comments about it occasionally but it doesn’t seem to matter any more. In fact, now that I no longer try to or even want to blend into the background, I rather enjoy the attention I get. I have made peace with my name.
All this ran through my mind in the second or two after my father asked his question. I knew what I would answer.
“No, Dad, not any more.” I said.
And of all the stories I might have told him, I chose to retell the one about the wedding.
Ferida has an MS in Education and holds a certificate in Holistic Studies. As a teacher of Hatha Yoga, she helped her students focus on and listen to their inner messages. She practices Qi Gong and Tai Chi and tends to look at the world from a variety of perspectives. She loves to travel and often brings the energy of the places she visits back into her writing. When in her early fifties, she discovered her inner "Swamp Woman" and has been enjoying the assertiveness of her midlife alter-ego. Her children were both recently married and she finds the role of mother-in-law and grandmother fun. She is the author of 16 books for children as well as the adult book The Adventures of Swamp Woman: Menopause Essays on the Edge.