Shape Divider - Style waves_brush
By Benigna Sanchez-Duty
History, mythology, ancestry, poetry, tradition, creativity and more.
I sat in my office on a cool spring morning, waiting for my reading group to come in from their classrooms. One of my students walked slowly into my office, her eyes cast down and her black hair covering her face. I walked to her and asked if she was okay. Ashima looked up at me with her big dark eyes and said, “Why can’t anyone say my name?”
She explained that she had a substitute teacher and that the sub had mispronounced her name, a beautiful Hindi name, during morning attendance. As we spoke, the other students rushed in to begin our reading lesson. One of the girls overheard a bit of our conversation and began to tease the little girl about her name. She purposefully mispronounced her name and laughed. Tiny, dark-eyed Ashima slumped in her seat, and I could see tears well up in her eyes. I stopped the other student from her continued teasing, quickly and sharply. I was about to start my lesson and let that moment pass, but I just couldn’t. The damage seemed too great. I pushed the folder containing that day’s lesson aside and decided to talk to my students.
I told them that names are very precious. I told them that they are passed on through families and can have great history and meaning, and that parents carefully select a name for their child.
I shared a personal story with them. When I was pregnant with my son Isaiah, I sat by his daddy and we read a book together with 10,000 baby names in it! I read just about every name in that book. We carefully considered each name, talking about what feelings each name evoked or who they reminded us of, good or bad. We laughed and cried as we contemplated what to name our child. We couldn’t decide on the exact name but we had created some criteria: something that sounded as beautiful in English as it did in Spanish, something that was timeless and that was strong. Then one day while we sat in church, a passage from Isaiah was read aloud. I leaned over to my husband and I asked, “Isaiah?” He did not respond. He just nodded that he had heard me. As mass continued we stood to offer the people around us peace and my husband turned to me and said, “Isaiah, yes.”
My students could not believe that we had considered 10,000 names before we decided on one. I promised them that it was true and told them that their parents probably went through a similar process, because choosing the name of your child is a very precious thing. I asked the children if they knew the story of how they got their name. Many of the children knew their stories and I let them share their story with all of us. Since it was a reading group, I of course felt the urgency to give the children something to read. I instructed the children to get on the computers and look up the meanings of their names.
After each child found their name, I let each one read the meaning to the class. Jordan giggled as she discovered that she is strong and steady like a river. Alejandra was amazed to find that she is the protector of humanity. Cassie quietly smiled when she read that she shines upon mankind. Kinley repeatedly asked if she had read the meaning of her name correctly. She found it impossible to believe that her name meant warrior, just like her mother had proclaimed she was a million times before. And Ashima, tiny, dark-eyed Ashima with chalky white traces of the tears that had earlier streamed down her perfect dark skin, sat proudly in her seat as she read to the class that her name, the name her older brother had chosen for her, meant “limitless.”
I felt peace wash over me as I watched the girls walk out of my office, excitedly making plans to share their meanings with family and friends. My students came into my office as girls and walked out strong and steady like a river, a protector of humanity, one who shines on mankind and a warrior. If only for a moment, it no longer mattered that people often mispronounce her name. Ashima bounced out of my room knowing that her name meant that she could do anything because she was limitless.