My Name Is Only “Different” Amongst Those Who Don’t Accept It as “Similar”

Mahder Kebede, Virginia Commonwealth University

Ever since moving from Ethiopia, my home country, my name has been the single most intimidating word for me to say to people. Given to me by my grandmother, my name – Mahder – derives from the Amharic language and carries a biblical meaning. If not pronounced with its four syllables, Ma- h- de- r a semantic word meaning ‘file for the bible’, it loses its significance. I never thought I would take the value of my name so seriously, but in my journey to exploring my identity, I have realized that my name represents who I am as an individual.

The famous quote, “your name is the most beautiful sound you can hear in a lifetime” resonates with me in this context because, in order to feel included as part of a society, I need to hear what I want to represent. Understandably, at times it is difficult to pronounce words that are completely out of one’s norm, nonetheless from a different language group. However, repetition is how everyone learned to speak every word in any language, and my name can certainly be absorbed in the same manner.

Mahder, deeply rooted in my culture, represents my identity; it reminds me of where I call home and which society I belong to. Therefore, when people mispronounce the semantic name I grew up hearing and I have to respond to it, that makes me feel as if I am discrediting my own culture. It is just as difficult for me to respond to the mispronunciation of my name as it is for others who attempt to say it correctly.

I believe that appreciating diversity should encompass embracing differences that may exist in all areas of culture, and this includes unique names whose meanings are not always understood. I am not ashamed, distressed or disappointed that my name is difficult for people to say. It is the fact that people don’t take the time to acknowledge the value my name bears to me that is frustrating.