It seems that to most humans, our names mean everything. Or something – something purposeful. Or outside of all things personal, not much of anything at all. So, I guess it depends on whom you may ask, or where you may ask, or among whom you may ask, or in what context you may want a person to feel you’ve asked. A lot to unravel about a simple question. And so, I write.
Despite opening this conversation, I for one, had never given deep thought to a name – my own name, until experiencing a couple of incidents that raised my curiosity. This goes back to my time in medical school in India.
One fine afternoon during our Physiology practicum, the lecturer called me to his desk in front of the entire class and asked me a question: “Are you in any way related to Dawood from Bombay?“ I’m sure I first looked confused and then I genuinely answered, “I don’t know whom you are talking about. My dad’s name is Dawood and we are from Tamil Nadu, not Bombay.” I remember the lecturer actually looked relieved. I never gave it a further thought. I had no inclination to know anything about the family he mentioned. We had no Google search back then.
Within a span of a year, I experienced a second incident. It moved me to reflect back to this previous incident. I was in the middle of a Pathology verbal exam. I was not able to understand the hostile response from the examiner. I mentioned it to my batch mate later and his response changed the way I started looking at names, “Might be that the examiner didn’t like your name.”
First troubled and then inspired, I became fascinated by names since then. Nowadays, my fascination is so apparent and broad that if you know me, I have probably asked the meaning of your name.
Names convey a wealth of information. Your name can sway towards a positive or a negative future direction for yourself and/or your posterity. For some, this prime identity can give way to identity crisis. Especially for those communities who have changed identities seeking better opportunities, voluntarily or driven by forces.
Think about it. Ironically, the names that our parents give us say something about them – not us of course. Their perspective and their prospect.
As you come to America presented with your name, chances are it will be and has usually been mispronounced. I have had people call me Na-za-ree-ya, Naz-ree, Nar-zee. Careful never to blame or judge people, I have wondered how hard could it be to pronounce Na-Zee-Ra? For that reason and others, immigrants have for centuries adopted names that sounded more American to help them more speedily and easily assimilate and avoid discrimination.
I actually have come to believe in “name driven outcome”. How coincidental is it that a person last named “Butcher” becomes a surgeon or a last name Vaidyanathan (king of medicine in Tamil) becomes a doctor?
Many years ago, I dug deep into the meaning of my name, Nazeera Banu Dawood. My first name Nazeera means “helper” which is used in Arabic and Hindi speaking countries. My middle name is seldom if ever needed to be used. It simply means lady or princess. My father’s name Dawood, is derived from the Hebrew “`Dawid /Biblical ‘David” and is central to Jewish, Christian and Islamic doctrine and culture.
I continue to honor my father through his name Dawood, and I am inspired by his philanthropic attributes. In my recent run for political office, I was ridiculed by some who in some bizarre way linked my last name to an evil mob from Bombay (Mumbai). Not having a clue about my story, they brought back memories from my medical school incidents and the reason I started researching the meaning of names. I have stayed strong with identity in tact through it all.
What I have not yet come to understand is did my parents want me to become a helper or did my name gravitate me towards a helping nature?
My daughter’s name is Liberty. She can decide to change it if she wishes to, but for now I know she will be accepted by all and will be a great lawyer or a judge. I say that of course with a here-so-fitting smile.
Do names matter or not? Even a rose becomes a symbol of sweetness, love and beauty, only after bearing its pronounced thorns.
I have sometimes wondered: If I was given a chance to change my name to a popular name such as Richa Sharma or Emma Smith, would I have been offered more opportunities without discouragements or obstructions? Although judgment is a natural instinct, we might do well to try to be cautious and empathetic enough to grant others the space to establish their true worth. We’ll grow to acknowledge that judging a person does not define who they truly are and are meant to be.
I am attached to my birth name. But if I ever decide to change my name, I would change it to “Human Being.”
For now, let me introduce myself, I am Nazeera Dawood. It means helper and someone who has the courage to fight for sensibility and all that is simply right.
What’s in your name?
Nazeera Dawood has a Master's in Public Health from the University of North Carolina and a medical degree from Bangalore University, India. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.