There is So Much to a Name

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“What’s in a name that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, says our friend Shakespeare.

Well, let me tell you friends, acquaintances, and strangers in the street—that means you, rude guy who just passed me, stepping on my dog’s leash. You almost decapitated my puppy Sienna. Why didn’t you feel the need to apologize? There is so much to a name, you don’t even know!

Back to Shakespeare, and his saying, “A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” Well, frankly with Mother’s Day just having passed, I’ve seen a lot of roses that smelled like nothing, like air, being modified so many times, the damn thing didn’t have a scent at all. It didn’t even look like a rose, by the way. Personally, to me, it resembled a crumpled wannabe tulip, but then again if my husband hadn’t waited until the last minute to get me a Mother’s Day gift from Von’s Supermarket then we wouldn’t really be having this conversation right now, would we!

I know my sons and husband spent an arm, a leg and a shoulder for those roses, ok! My god, peonies would have been fine, orchids even better, at least they last a month, and I don’t have to water them much. I don’t remember the last time I watered myself let alone watered something else.

Anyway, not to get too sidetracked—wait did I pay that damn parking ticket before it doubles?  There is so much to a name and no not all smell that sweet or even are that sweet! At least my ice tea, which I paid five bucks for distinguishes itself between sweet and unsweetened!

You see … I came to Tehrangeles a.k.a Los Angeles when I was ten. I realized rather quickly that if I wanted to assimilate with the American posse, I would have to get glued to the TV, because Mrs. Pacman wasn’t talking to me, the damn thing only ate dots. I had to depend on my best friend, the TV. I watched hours on end of Three’s Company, Alice, Mork and Mindy, Different Strokes and Facts of Life in bulkload to learn English so that I would be able to loosen my “perzhen aksent” (cue in thick persian accent) and learn English! Who was I kidding?

I had to do something about my accent and my mustache, which had a great resemblance to Frida Kahlo’s. I would confiscate my mom’s tweezers when she was watching the same shows. I would  pluck my unibrow in the bathroom I was sharing with everyone in the apartment except maybe the janitor, Billy!  I was about to start school, 5th grade in two weeks, learn English, resemble my American peeps as much as possible and navigate my deluxe, pink, daisy-infused bicycle with the basket and frills that my brother had bought me on the clearance rack. (The training wheels  were dismantled just a day before.) I also desperately searched for some kind of fertilizer to grow my bangs, which my brother had ever so gently cut at an angle. Thanks to him I  looked like Moe from three stooges.

Since I knew there was a fat chance that, at ten, my mom was going to let me do anything about my facial hair. And, my accent would’ve taken a freakin’ professional coach from Warner Bros. to get rid of. I thought the easiest way to blend in was to at least alter my name.

(During the two weeks I had been in Los Angeles, truth be told, my name had been butchered at least 127 times. This phenomena continues to this day, even at my ripe young age of 42. I still go by Niki when I am making restaurant reservations, because I am so over the woman asking me to spell Negin for the umpteenth time). For god’s sake, it’s not like I was named Nefertiti!

So anyway, such experiences through junior high and high school made me see the light and harness that chi, not! By the time I was a freshman in college, I decided to give it another shot. I channeled Mr. Miyagee’s “wax on … wax off – sand the flow,” and I was once again ready to take the journey back to my roots and refresh Negin and not Niki for an encore performance!

I mean, I looked around at other people’s names on their class schedules; Perdo was still Perdo, Jean Luc the same … yes – maybe Khadijah had become Samantha (but seeing her pensive seductive glare into my eyes every time I looked around the room, I think name change was the least of her worries). Sadly though, Madame Freimuth, our French teacher decided to step in and dash my hopes of having any semblance of keeping an authentic Persian name … leaving me no choice but to resurrect her understudy Niki, at any time I deemed fit for the rest of my life!

Oh … my beloved Madame Freimuth. I would always arrive in Persian Standard Time and sit in the back of the class hoping she wouldn’t call on me. Sure enough, each and every time I heard her Julia Child voice—well, that is if Julia Child had a thick French accent and was five feet shorter, had this love affair with the color yellow, excuse me, neon yellow. She would foam at the mouth when lecturing, taking up a good hour of the class. (She also had an uncanny resemblance to Danny Devito with a toupee.) She would squint her eyes and peek through her glasses—which were sitting so low on her nose you didn’t know if they were there for poor eyesight or just to serve as a bug shield for her nostrils—and say …

“Mademoiselle Nezheeeen u arggggh late … seeet daun and conjooogayyyyte dee verrrrrrb dorrrrrmirrrr!”

Really? you don’t say—because I thought I was early and all these people sitting here are just seat fillers waiting for the next show. Conjugate … oh sweet mother of Notre Dame … for the love of God … I just had breakfast … don’t make me regurgitate! Let me just sit back here next to my Egyptian friend, Omar … the clone of Hossni Mubarak, who can practically become a French translator for the UN, and munch on the rest of my stale Cheetos that I found scattered on the bottom of my backpack.

Long gone are those days of Madame Freimuth. After years of name therapy, I have now diversified my portfolio. “Niki” is for my American posse, “Negin” is for my Persian peeps and “Conchita Armando Escobar” is for the people who don’t fit in the other two groups. I have also been known to use Negisuka, so the sushi chef at Takao gives me the freshest toro!

After all these years, I have come to realize that “Negin” ain’t so bad. It is at least user friendly for the most part and it means gemstone in Farsi, a blessing in Arabic! I am not quite sure what it means in Swahili, but I can Google that!

So … for all those parents who want to give their new bundle of joy the “sweet smell” of a name, searching social media for a name or wanting to name their child something unique, so even the child doesn’t know how to pronounce it, trust me Shakespeare got it wrong. There is much to a name!

If you want to avoid your child getting lost in translation, hmm at 13—as he or she is going through puberty, in fascination about the wonders of their new found social and emotional world as they navigate Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat … #hashtag – confusion and acclimation—please don’t make their name one of the issues that becomes an issue! Because let me tell you, if you have a hard time writing Abdul Hussein wondering if you should spell it with two D’s or one, chances are so will your child, his peers and their teacher from Nebraska!

My advice for parents-to-be: Carefully peruse the baby name list before you decide to name your child after a city, state, fruit, prophet, designer or article of clothing such as pants, or a cardinal direction such as Northwest. If you are planning on doing that, why not name him Smog? Then maybe he can get a discount at the local Jiffy Lube.

Negin Yassini

Diaries of a Persian Mamacita I moved to Los Angeles in August of 1983, at 10, sporting a unibrow, a big nose and a Frida Kahlo mustache. And let me tell you, such aesthetically displeasing features were only exasperated by the fact that I didn't speak a word of English! Flash forward 31 years, with years of trials, joys and turbulences, some good tweezers, wax and a great plastic surgeon, I have now been married for 17 years with two boys 13 and 10, trying to survive and thrive in my dual cultures, as I relish life's moments of bliss and piss!

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