Without my consent my name was chosen for me. I learned my name as Baba and Mama crouched down and cooed my name at me as I took my first steps.
"Ma-ma-ma-ma-mah." My tongue and lips embraced the soft syllables of familiarity.
I remember my first day of preschool. Mama dropped me off and I cried, but soon enough the unfamiliar became familiar. I don't remember how the teachers said my name. In fact, I don't remember having a name at all then. They don't teach you to read or write in preschool; the teacher just writes your name for you.
Mrs. Nickels' head turned to the side, as she paused after Mama answered her question of how to pronounce my name. "Eye-yah. Okay, Eye-yah, have a seat on the rainbow carpet." It was then when I realized my name was a difficult concept; one that took deep consideration to understand. "Eye-yah." Two syllables.
In kindergarten, I learned how to hold the big pencil and write my name. "A-I-A." Three little letters. I was given such a tiny name to string. A name as big as my hands clasped together. Two claps, two syllables.
I answered when they called the name that they gave me. Such sharp syllables, and my tongue obeyed. "Eye-yah." Karate chop?
It was fourth grade. By then I was used to the anxiety that resonated within me as I prayed for an attempt at my first name during roll call -- my three vowels which were seemingly too intimidating to attempt -- instead of the usual skipping over my first name to my middle name: "Jamal?" Back then, I was ashamed of my middle name because of the fact that it is a man's name -- Baba's name, as it is an Arabian tradition to be named after one's father and I had no choice but to keep it. It was given to me, like my other two syllables. This was the name I answered to during roll call, but it wasn't my name; isn't my name. I raised my hand.
"I'm here. My name is Aia."
"That's a pretty name. What does it mean?"
After quite a few "ums," I told her I was a Muslim and that our religious book was The Quran.
"Well, like, um, it means a sentence of that book."
I was so naive, but never had anyone told me that my name was pretty.
"I, uh..." I'd turn my head at that. Until this day I wonder if my heart raced because I was afraid of being caught not paying attention in class as my teacher shared her stories or because my heart knew I had betrayed it.
By seventh grade, my classmate picked up on how my teachers called "Jamal" during roll call.
"Ha ha, Jamal."
"My name is Eye-yah."
My first voicemail message: "Hey, this is 'Eye-yah' please leave a message."
Aia, why do you say your name like that?" my brother asked me. I didn't have an answer.
"Ayayayayayayayaya! Hahahaha!" Like something one would say at a fiesta. I shrugged it off. It was funny.
I discovered my name when I was thirteen. It was not only a "sentence of The Quran" but rather "miracle." My two syllables meant "miracle of God."
And I was a miracle of God; I am a miracle of God.
For the first time ever, Baba told me that his full name was "Jamal ad-Deen." It means "beauty of the Deen," -- beauty of religion, a way of life and mindset, one I believe is the most beautiful of all. But Baba's name was condensed to two syllables, just like mine. But I then understood that my middle name is "beauty." I am a beautiful miracle of God.
By high school, my teachers stopped skipping over my first name. "Eye-ee-yah?" My question to you, oh teacher is: how can you squeeze that many syllables out of three letters? At the time, I laughed; after all I was used to it, but at least I knew that I was a two-syllabled miracle of God.
"I have never heard that one before."
"Did I say it right?" My professors look at me in disbelief as I respond that they did. I am in disbelief as well. It's a miracle.
" Ayayayayayayayayayayya! Hahahahaha!"
She thought it was the funniest thing. She continued laughing, but I refused to respond to it.
"My name is not a war cry."
"Oh, that's such a pretty name!"
"Thanks, it means miracle."
"Aia Jamal Hawari," my classmate read aloud the name printed on my ID card. "Yep, that's me," I told her. What she didn't realize was that that name was given to me without my consent, but with my consent I have written it, defined it, and have understood it for all it is. Three little vowels, two syllables, and the same when mirrored. What she doesn't realize is that my name has a meaning beyond the linguistic barriers that keep her from understanding it. And so I chuckle to myself, not at her lack of knowledge, but because Mama and Baba's most precious gift to me
was my two beautiful and miraculous syllables and it took me too long to realize it.