Is it too late to correct the pronunciation of my name?
This first-person column is written by Sabra Ismath who lives in Toronto. For more information on CBC’s first-person stories, please visit the FAQ.
I never understood why I loved Hannah Montana when I was a child.
Maybe it’s because I too have lived a double life.
It started when I was five years old. I remember sitting in a circle next to my new classmates on the very first day of school. As the teacher went through the attendance list from Sarah to Kevin, she finally called my name. Well, her pronunciation at least, but still, I knew she was referring to me. “Sab-ra,” she said. I don’t know why I raised my hand and said “here”.
Fast forward several years, I am now 22 and I wonder if it is not too late to correct the “Canadian” version of my name that I have let people call me all my life. My name is not just a label that I wear. This is my identity and allowing others to call me in a whitewashed version seems an injustice to me.
When others said my name incorrectly, I would just smile and nod my head so as not to cause them problems or feel like an inconvenience. Growing up in Canada as a South Asian Muslim has always been a constant battle to adjust to standards that Western society has deemed acceptable.
These subtle and unintentional micro-aggressions made me feel that my name and identity was a nuisance to Canadian society and to those who could not pronounce it.
Finally, I adopted this sloppy pronunciation of my name.
I lost sight of the beauty of my name by being confined to a box of fear, the need to fit in and the feeling that because I’m an immigrant, I needed to be grateful for what I was doing. ai and not to ask for more.
Well my name is Sabra, pronounced Sub-ra, not Sab-ra. It comes from the root of the Arabic word, Sabr ‘ (صبر), which means patience. Growing up, I was always taught to be patient with any challenges that come my way, because God has a plan for us. At home, I have never been called by nicknames or shortened forms of my name since my parents always told me that my name carried a lot of weight. “It’s beautiful, you just have to see it.”
So the question arises: how to change this? Is it too late to correct the pronunciation of my name?
The first person I corrected was myself. I remember standing next to my mom while I was talking to the store clerk. She smiled and put the two tops I had just begged my mom to buy into the bag and asked for my email address to redeem the back-to-school coupon. Without hesitation, I said, “Sab-ra.” My mother frowned and I was ashamed. When the cashier repeated to confirm the address, I corrected myself and said: “Sub-ra.”
From there, I slowly built the courage to let others know.
“I swear you told me it was Sab-ra.” That’s the first thing my three-summer colleague said when I finally decided to tell him the correct way to pronounce my name. I had dropped the correct pronunciation of my name in a funny story about my sister. I was too scared to tell him that I had practically lied to him from the start. My colleague heard the unknown pronunciation and seemed confused before asking me to repeat myself. This is exactly what I did and explained that this is how my name should be pronounced. I felt extremely embarrassed for the rest of my shift, but just as we were saying our goodbyes she said my name, ‘Sub-ra’ and said it suited me better.
Coming home that day, I felt the same unsettling sense of shame I had felt before. But I also felt glad I stood up for who I am
Looking back, I realize that this feeling was also me to finally see what my parents had seen when they first named me. With patience I finally see myself and my name for what it is and aspire to wear it proudly and this is the first step.
I realized that I don’t owe anyone anything because I claim my privilege, my life, my name.
So my name is Sabra. Here’s how to pronounce it:
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