When you're born you find a name ready and waiting
for you: "Peek-a-boo, here I am, see me? I'm your name! Thank you!" Now, let's say that the name you've been given is, for example, Karim or Gamil ("generous" or "handsome," for a boy), or Karima or Gamila ("generous" or "pretty" for a girl). So far, everything goes smoothly, no problem.
Growing up, however, you realize that the name you find pasted onto you in no way matches your character or your looks, because maybe over time you've gotten stingy, or ugly. An unresolvable conflict, or, rather, an incurable wound. You can't be generous and stingy, beautiful and ugly at the same time. And so? So nothing. The name becomes a burden to carry on your conscience your whole life. For a lot of people it's a real cross to bear.
No one can choose his own name, I mean first name. Let's say right away that it's not a tragedy; there are worse things in life, like children dying of hunger or women raped in wars. But for an immigrant the question of the name is fundamental.
The first question you're asked is: what is your name? if you have a foreign name it immediately creates a barrier, an impassable boundary between "us" and "you." The name says loud and clear whether you're inside or outside, whether you belong to "us" or to "you." An example? If you live on Viale Marconi and your name is Mohamed it automatically means that you're not a Christian or a Jew but a Muslim. Right? Very likely you're not even Italian because your parents aren't. And so? So nothing. It doesn't count if you were born in Italy, are an Italian citizen, speak Italian perfectly and so on. My dear Mohamed, in the eyes of others you are not (and never will be) a purebred Italian, Italian a hundred percent, thoroughly Italian. Let's say the name is the first indication that we're different.
There are always some clever types who choose a pseudonym, but, unfortunately, the problem is more complex, and can't be resolved that way. It's like putting on a mask to hide your face. Lying to others and above all to yourself doesn't lead anywhere. Lies don't get very far. Sooner or later the mask falls and the truth is on the surface. It will happen the day you go to the records office to apply for a certificate. And who will you find waiting for you there? Guess. Your original name! It's no coincidence - this meeting was scheduled long ago. And it will be enough to ruin the rest of the day. But if someone really insists on having a pseudonym, I say, no irony intended: please, help yourself!
In my humble opinion, parents shouldn't be in a hurry to give names to their children haphazardly, they should wait until the child grows up and get an idea of his or her character, physical appearance, and so on. You pay dearly for a wrong, inadequate, improvised name, because it produces complexes. Tell me your name and I'll tell you who you are and if you've got any psychological problems. Clear?
Often the name hides the parents' frustrations. Every name has a story. In my case, Safia was chosen by my father without consulting anyone. Poor papa, he expected a boy and had a name ready: Saad, which in Arabic means "auspicious." Before me, my mother had had two girls. With my birth the family hoped for a shift, a reversal, a radical change, a biological revolution. The family motto was: A boy now! Unfortunately, desire is one thing, reality another. Saad is a beloved name in Egypt. It recalls our great national hero Saad Zaghoul. Let's say, like George Washington for Americans and Giuseppe Garibaldi for Italians. When my was mother was pregnant with me, my father thought of nothing but his future heir, little Saad. My birth took everyone by surprise, throwing many people into despair, my father foremost. A newborn, and already I felt guilty. So I dedicated my first tears to my family. It was so painful to see them in such a sorry state.
Excerpted from Divorce Islamic Style by Amara Lakhous. Copyright © 2012 by Amara Lakhous. Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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