This week’s blog post includes a linked audio file. Just click on the link below if you would like to hear the post read aloud. Scroll down to read the text.
Our guest blogger this week, Narjes Hashemi, is a second-year master’s student in Education and Society in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University. She has been working as a graduate research assistant (GRA) on the SSHRC funded project “Countering religious extremism through education in multicultural Canada”, under the direction of Dr. Ratna Ghosh. She graduated with a BA in Sociology degree from the University of British Columbia. Her MA thesis explores women’s roles in preventing religious extremism in Afghanistan.
My name is Narjes. اسم من نرجس است. It’s an Arabic and Persian name meaning a specific kind of daffodil (also known as Narcissus flower). It’s a very popular name in the Middle East as well as in Afghanistan, Tajikstan, Iran and India. In Iran, it’s commonly known as Narges. In India, Tajikstan, and Afghanistan, where I’m from, it’s spelled Nargis but it’s really all one name, pronounced and written differently in different countries.
My name is Narjes, which is the Arabic version of Narges. I’m the second child and the first daughter of my parents. When I was born, my father was happy to have a daughter (after a son) and wanted to give me a “unique” name. He liked Narges but he thought it was too common, so he gave me the Arabic version of Narges, Narjes. I never really liked or appreciated my name because people often mistook it for Narges (which is more popular in Iran where I grew up). My teachers in Iran would say things like: “Your name is NOT Narjes, it’s Narges!!” or in Kabul someone asked me “You mean your name is Nargis, not Narjes, right?” I would always correct them that my name was Narjes. Though it was still a bit frustrating.
My father passed away when I was nine. After this, for a short time I appreciated my name, because he had given it to me. I loved that he was still somehow a part of me (because of my name). Though this appreciation for my name didn’t last very long.
Things changed a lot when my family and I moved to Canada. In high school, every single one of my teachers couldn’t say my name correctly. They just called me random things in failed attempts to pronounce my name. For three years, I watched my teachers get frustrated for their inability to remember my “foreign” and “strange” name. For three years, I hated my name more than ever before. For three years, I thought there was something wrong with me. Why did everyone have “normal” names and I had a “weird” name? So instead of correcting my teachers and peers, because I despised the way they called me, eventually I gave up trying to get them to say my name right. When I went to college, I was determined to make my life (and others’) easier and after experimenting with some names that I thought were closer to my real name, such as Nara and Nora, I settled for an Anglo-name that was also a Persian name, Sara. So, I became Sara for the next 10 years, until now.
Yet, I never felt like I am a Sara (still don’t). In the past 10 years that I have called myself Sara, I have never felt like I am my true authentic self. My family and close friends still call me Narjes (as they should). Though, my younger siblings sometimes mockingly call me Sara to make fun of me (sigh).
A few weeks ago, I attended a conference at Concordia University where the keynote speaker was Kama La Mackerel who is a multi-disciplinary artist, cultural mediator and educator. Their talk made me think deep and hard about my name and what it means to me. They spoke about workshops that they host with marginalized youth, so their voices are heard and empowered where one aspect of their workshop is going around the table and getting everyone to talk about the story behind their names. Kama La Mackerel spoke about the importance of listening to those stories and holding them. Holding them like they matter. Holding them like they are precious. Kama La Mackerel then shared their own story of how they felt they lacked this support when they were in Academia, which led to their eventually leaving the academic industry. Their talk really resonated with me, as an Afghan refugee youth who had just arrived in a new country. At one point, I felt the same. I felt out of place and alone. Most of my teachers weren’t even able to say my name right. No one was interested in my story. No one held my story. So, I erased my story. I erased my name. I gave up being Narjes. I gave up the beautiful name my loving father once gave me. And, I hid a part of my identity.
Though changing my name (or giving myself an English sounding nickname) did make things easier for me. People were no longer asking me if I was Moroccan (which is fine by the way, given it’s an Arabic name, so it’s a very fair curious question…). People were not interested in my ‘background’ as much since I had a ‘common’ or ‘normal’ name. So, at least I didn’t have to answer questions about the Taliban, Afghanistan or Iran. It was just easier navigating life, I guess…
I have thought about reclaiming my name for a long time now. But thanks to Kama La Mackerel, the time has come, and I made the decision to be myself, to be Narjes at last. I want to honour my father, my background, and I want to honour my story. I no longer want to erase it and I’m no longer ashamed of my name. I haven’t been for a long time, but it was just easier to keep going the way things were. But easy doesn’t mean right, at least for me, in this case. Now, for the first time, I truly think my name is beautiful and I can say that I like my name. This is my identity. I’m Narjes and will always be. I will no longer have a “public” name and a “private” name. My name is Narjes. اسم من نرجس است.
تشکر از پدر عزیزم, محمد هاشمی برای این اسم زیبا
You can learn more about Kama La Mackerel’s work here: https://lamackerel.net/