Dear Saba: Call me by my name

Saba Nia

Dear Sixth Grade Saba,

Today nobody said my name.
I’m used to it – the mispronunciations and wooden tongues trying to make sense of my “exotic” name, the pauses in roll call and hapless eyes searching for recognition in a crowd – so hearing my name said properly always makes me do a double take.

Do you know how odd it is to feel odd when someone says your name right? To know that you are more used to being called something other than your real name? And that’s the messy truth.

You were the eldest. Top of the food chain. Big kids on campus. As your sneakers glided over the small field to the parents handing out packages, you felt a rush within your veins.

As part of tradition, you and your sixth grade peers were about to receive custom school jackets. At a school where everyone wore the same uniforms, having this freedom of expression was more than a rite of passage, it was finally a way in which you are able to display your individuality.
You got into line.

Now, Saba, don’t think that strangers and acquaintances are going around purposely butchering my name. Many, in fact, have tried earnestly to say my name right or have even apologized for their inability to do so. So does it matter if people mess up a letter or two? Is this such a big deal?

Sabe. That is your name now. You start laughing at how your name could be misspelled so incorrectly. A mom reassures you they will get you another, correct version of your jacket as soon as possible, and you nod your head.

The blunder reinvents itself as a new nickname. For the remainder of sixth grade, you are not Saba.

Names carry weight. It’s the first piece of information you offer to others when you meet. Even if you can’t read or write yet, you are taught to know your name.

Because even if they’re just a string of letters, they’re your string of letters.
But names are only as meaningful as one makes them. It doesn’t matter what college name we sport on our sweatshirts or that we attend one of the most prestigious high schools in the nation if we haven’t done much else except for getting accepted.

When you were accepted to Harvard-Westlake, you were not sure if you wanted to go. For most of your life, you had considered the school next door as your best option for a high school. All that you knew about Harvard-Westlake was that it was rigorous and exciting and a lot.

But when you stepped onto campus for the first time, you could imagine yourself strolling through the hallways and laughing with friends (quietly, of course) in the library. The lapping of the pool sounded like a lullaby and the Senior Garden smelled like an adventure. Before you had even descended the steps down to the Horns Commons, you saw yourself climbing up to receive your diploma.

When you decided to accept Harvard-Westlake, you were sure you wanted to go. But not for its name, for everything that couldn’t be conveyed by those 15 letters.

So even if I don’t say anything, if you mispronounce my name, I will notice. But if you misunderstand my identity, I will notice and care. It is important we acknowledge what names can represent. And it is also important that we don’t get too attached to them.

Because there is a danger in placing too much emphasis in something that can easily be misinterpreted or overlooked. So, dear Saba, strive to do work that can stand on its own, with no name attached. Do things even if you won’t get recognized explicitly, or at all. Invest in your ideas and experiences and knowledge and memories.

Give meaning to the names you identify with.


Twelfth Grade Saba