There are certain Arab names that I still struggle with. I have a student whom I call Mohammed solely because I can’t pronounce his second name. There are five Mohammeds in the class, so it’s not very effective and shouldn’t be done. I don’t even know how many Mohammeds I know in my social life because it is very rare for a person who is named Mohammed to actually consider it their name. Their second name is their name and their identity. I loathe that I cannot pronounce that student’s name. (On the other side of that coin, it is one of my greatest accomplishments that I can pronounce Ahmed well enough that someone once ended his rant about how Westerners never learn to pronounce Arab names after I correctly breathed the “h.”)
There’s a short piece I once read about an Arab-American’s struggle to keep her name and it made me cry the first time I read it.
Last weekend I learned that the IB program doesn’t grade papers anonymously. (IB is an external, standardized program that basically certifies that students have college-level results in a certain subject. It’s the British version of AP, I gather.) For whatever stupid reason, they leave the names of the students on the exams. I also learned that students at our school have consistently been marked lower than they deserve. They also consistently have Arab names.
Sometimes my white guilt is so overpowering that I dream of naming my daughter “Shaniqua” and my son “Osama,” just to ruin everyone’s preconceived notions. Then I remember that I am not pregnant, have no significant other and my hypothetical children might not even be as blindingly white as I am. More likely they will be one step towards the beige-ifying of the world.