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1 September 2023

'Say It With Me Now'


“Give your daughters difficult names. 

Names that command the full use of the tongue. 

My name makes you want to tell me the truth. 

My name does not allow me to trust anyone 

who cannot pronounce it right.” 

 Warsan Shire 

“You should change your name, y’know to make it easier.” He paused, dramatically, as if the next words he spoke were worthy of a Pulitzer (they weren’t). He proceeded with, “But, wait you’re going to be behind the camera so that really doesn’t matter.” [I studied screenwriting, hence the remark]. Shocked and furious, I sat there silenced by the audacity of a stranger I had not met but a mere twenty minutes ago. 

Calladita te ves mas bonita is something that has resided within the recesses of my brain for more than half of my life. And in the Latinx community, this phrase is all too common. For we must be ladies, proper ladies, at all times so as to not be meddlesome for our own good. God forbid we of the feminine have something valuable to contribute other than polite conversation! 


But at around 11 am, on April 19, 2022, I was gobsmacked. What does that matter?! Does a name not have value? Granted this document has been sitting in my drive since its conception on that Tuesday morning – so it’s with some time away that I’ve revisited this juncture with fresh eyes – yet, at this very moment of recall, a wave of even more furious anger than before hits me. I am struck and taken back to a memory long before my name was called out as a “problem”. 

On this trip into the past, I am five. Sitting on the cold, rocky asphalt with the hem of my plaid uniform skirt brushing at my knees, tiny pebbles clung to my skin like sticky pearls. The low rumble of whispers from teachers to parents; the ringing of the microphone near its proximity to the speaker; the all-too-bright glare from the building’s tiny windows was too much. Too much for the five-year-old girl with pigtails and spectacles. Too much that when the principal began the assembly and asked aloud on the microphone what her name was, I quickly raised my hand. 

As she walked towards me, I sat straighter, held my head higher, met the slightly terrified gaze of my parents, and with conviction spoke into the microphone: “My name is Deyita.” 

Hey, give kid-me a break, I was learning English. 

Muffled laughter filled the space we were in and I too joined in. I laughed -- a little laugh, the uncomfortable kind. I didn’t understand how saying something as simple as my name could elicit such a reaction. 

But in the eight years that passed, I was still wearing that insufferable plaid skirt with knee-high socks; until I wasn’t. I was fourteen and I wanted to be cool, desperately, but I quickly found out that that wasn’t in the stars (which, now in retrospect, is fine it’s much too exhausting to keep trying too hard to be someone you’re not). A freshman in high school, I upgraded my glasses for contacts, added shiny brackets to my teeth, and traded the uniform for graphic tees and jeans. As my appearance altered, so did my name. From “Deyita”, a term of endearment bestowed upon me by family members to “Deya”, a more condensed, palatable version of the former. 

But, sitting here now, I am presented with a quandary: Was the butchering of my name predestined, given that it wasn’t something the American tongues weren’t accustomed to saying; or, was I merely a willing participant in the dismemberment of something that was (and still is) deeply embedded within my identity as an individual and as a woman? 

It was time for roll call, and alphabetically, I was always last, but I knew the instant they reached the unknown, the alien of all namesakes. I could see it on their faces, once worn with an easy complacency of announcing the Janes and Johns of the world; it was the odd arrangement of eight letters that caused worry. Or, was it panic? Their eyes widened, the grip on the clipboards tightened, their brows furrowed in confusion, and with much chagrin on their part, it was said incorrectly. Dayandrea? Diana? Dayanara? Danira? And even worse, Diarrhea? Not even remotely close, right? I know this. And yet, I responded, “It’s Deya.” The mere utterance of a subpar attempt at the (mis)pronunciation of it sent an embarrassingly amount of splotchy red blush on my cheeks as a child and even more so as an angsty teen. 

So, with much shame, it was the latter, that I, myself, was a culprit of the very thing that once sustained me with an immense amount of pride. But I was young, and I lost that girl that proudly spoke her name to the multitudes.

The vicious cycle continued into college, where the meeting of new students and new professors changed every semester and every year. From eight letters down to six then to four, and finally, to an astonishing amount of three. “Dey.” That was the little bit that I offered up. I chose it. For what was the point of trying? After fifteen years, I took control and made the conscientious decision to systematically sever the few remaining fragments of a four-syllable word. No longer would I have to wrangle with the fact that I knew one way or another it was going to be pronounced incorrectly. Agonizing over Starbucks orders and dinner reservations would be a thing of the past. Slowly sounding out my name as if speaking to a child, would be something I wouldn’t have to worry about. 

It wasn’t until my very last semester, months before graduating undergrad, that one of my professors, out of sheer curiosity, asked what the meaning of my name was. I didn’t have an answer to tell her, not a worthwhile one anyway. I didn’t know. I continued with my day, my mind racing with nervous energy regarding my upcoming post-grad life: Where would I work? Live? How would I pay off my student loans? At the time, I didn’t realize that a name could mean anything to someone it did not belong to. My name was a name like any other. So, like any other inquisitive writer of my generation, I took it to Google to provide all my answers. 


Here is what I found:

A) It’s not popular. In 1993, it was ranked #934. B) In Greek mythology, the name belonged to Hercules’ wife, who by using cunning trickery, killed him. And lastly, C) “Deyanira” means devastating and capable of great destruction. 


Not only did my name legitimately mean something, but the discovery itself was life-altering. 

So, with heels that hurt my feet and a flurry of nerves bumbling around in my stomach, I neared the stage, and in the full garb of the university cap and gown, I looked out into the crowd once again and I was ready.


I was ready for the droves of people to hear my name, in its entirety and I saw them: my family, my friends amidst the sea of excited parents and professors.


They were there: My mother smiled proudly, her eyes blanketed by the sunglasses that sat atop her nose; and, my father dressed for the occasion in a suit and tie, gleefully pointing at his newly purchased cap with the school’s insignia. My brother and sister, my cousin and aunts, they were all there. When they announced my difficult name (correctly, thanks to phonetic spelling) in front of the crowd, I plastered a nervous smile on my face and . . . I took back my name. 

But now, knowing that it took almost twenty-eight years, breaks my heart. The treacherous terrain of my twenties is marked by self-doubt and secret bouts of meltdowns in the shower with the knowledge that I relied (heavily) on others to tell me who I identified as and what my name was. 

Therein lies the mistake, the overall problem. I was wrong. 

I. Was. Wrong. 

I knew perfectly what my name was and how to say it.


I just didn’t take the time to show them, to help them learn my name. As much as I placed the blame on others, it was and is more of my fault than anything. I am the sole individual liable for the mishandling of my own eponym. Why? Because I was timid? Ashamed that it gave way to a glimpse into my cultural identity? Maybe. Perhaps, a little bit of both. I didn’t fully embrace it. I didn’t take into account the time it took one’s mouth, one’s tongue, to adjust to the sound of the foreign vowels; or, the fact that they, too, might’ve felt some uneasiness at articulating a word that seemed to be written like a typo. And some did try, they tried very hard. It all went underappreciated. 


That was then.

Now, I announce my name, repeat it and assist (if necessary) until they get it right. I channel the five-year-old who spoke her name in a space full of strangers and approach each new strange space with the same verve, the same spirit. I am who I was before the world and its rules became deciding factors in shaping who I would become – free. 

Free to pursue my passions, doggedly, and without remorse. 

Free to embrace my femininity whilst not being beholden to the conformity of the ideals set by societal mores. 

Free to utilise my voice to challenge and disrupt, knowing with certainty that I am capable of great destruction (for good, of course).

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