HALVES OF A WHOLE
photo by Neha Mani
Hridmita Hasan. Foreign, different, mysterious, yet prominently Arabic.
Hridmita, pronounced rid-me-thuh, the h simply there for kicks. A name given to me by my mother, which, when divided down the middle, possesses two separate meanings. Two words and two parts of one whole of one name: my name. ‘Hrid’ and ‘mita’, two carefully selected words that respectively come together to uphold both a religious and cultural value. The word ‘Hrid,’ chosen by my Muslim mother, derived from an older version of Arabic and even modern-day Marathi roughly translated into the mind, the heart, or the soul. And the word ‘Mita,’ chosen by my Muslim-Bengali mother, meaning friend/mate when translated from Hindi. Ultimately translating into soulmate or true friend. Onto ‘Hasan,’ simply my father’s surname which I have also carried down, a popular one in the Muslim community. An Arabic word meaning beautiful or handsome depending on the person or thing.
My first name, being as uncommon as it is, has always been special to me. I haven’t met or come across a single person with my name in person or online. In that way, it’s mine and almost only mine. But from a young age, my name had always been a source of both pride and anguish, first and last both included.
I remember as a little kid, roll call had always been quite the scene. I would listen carefully to the teacher as they made their way down the alphabet, inching closer to the H's, and then there it was. The scratch of the head. The scrunched nose. A raised eyebrow or maybe even a nervous giggle accompanied by the tucking of a strand of hair behind the ear. There was always some clue or indication showing that they were completely and utterly stumped. Now as a child, I’d always just wait for them to pronounce it themselves, and completely butcher it. Afterward, I’d feel embarrassed and think that it was primarily my fault. It was my fault for having such a weird, foreign, double-consonant starting name. Attendance is still awkward even now but in the past couple of years, I’ve developed a habit of interjecting before they could read my name like a question, or at least attempt to.
In elementary school, I remember there was even a time when a teacher had asked if they could call me “Rosalind”, which is nowhere close to my name. Of course, I turned him down. I remember watching the teachers, listening to them get through the Chrises and the Matts, the Biancas and the Kates, the Juliets and the Evans, even the Ilizabeths with an “I.” With an “I?” Really? But rarely has there ever been a time when a teacher of mine has gotten my name right. At least not until after a couple of “What?”s and “Can you repeat that?”s. I remember always feeling so low and bad about the teachers not being able to pronounce my name. I remember wishing I had a different name. One that was fluent and swift, easy to pronounce, and didn’t result in verbal diarrhea. Over the years, I started laughing the attendance portion off. I’d turn to my friends and say “Wait for it...wait for it…” until the teacher got around to my name and then we’d all laugh. I treated it like a joke. As long as the teacher said something close, I’d tell them they got it.
There were times where my name had put me in harmful positions because it was so distinctly Muslim. Growing up I faced a plethora of different racist experiences by bigoted people who couldn’t look at me as anything other than the “spawn of a terrorist religion” or a “bloody Indian who should have gone back to their country.” And as a kid, these things were initially hard to fathom. It’s hard to have friends who look you in the eye and tell you they love you but won’t admit that they’re afraid of you at the same time, just because you have this label, just because you have this name. For a while, I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I felt unsafe and I felt different. I didn’t want to be me. I remember a vivid moment from my childhood where my mom sat me down to have a serious conversation about legally changing my name because she felt that it was simply too difficult for people to pronounce.
It wasn’t until my 10th birthday, that I realized the true value behind my name. On my 10th birthday, my dad draped a customized, gold necklace around my neck. He told me that the writing was just as valuable as the entirety of the necklace itself. It was a nameplate, made out of solid gold, the letters engraved into this fancy script, with a rose-leaf border framing the bottom. He told me that there was nothing more beautiful than my name. It was beautiful.
I have had my name mispronounced so many times that at one point I wasn’t even sure how to say it, and soon I began introducing myself in the mispronounced version. I realized that my parents didn’t immigrate halfway across the world, and struggle to settle down here in America to have my brother and me, only for us to mispronounce our own names so they’d fit better in the mouths of others. Since then, I haven’t been scared to correct people when they have it wrong and it's been very extricating. I no longer hide behind this veil of fear of offending another. That’s my name, it should be pronounced correctly and people should make an effort to learn it right.
My mother has weaved together my Muslim and South-Asian identities, two distinct and important halves of my identity with my name. Through the years and the various experiences I’ve had growing up, I realized these are parts of me that I will never completely be able to change no matter how much I change. In the same manner, my name will always be my name. I do not wish to be a Beth or a Mackenzie or even an Ilizabeth with an “I.” I am content with being just Hridmita.