Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Correct Way To Pronounce Someone's Name

An old sage wrote about how how rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But I do think names matter for many things... my own name Iram has been pronounced Tram, eye-ram, eee-rrram, Irma, Mari (I'm guessing that one was a dyslexic move or someone with a creative sense of humor), and properly. However, in the name it's a trilled r (doesn't even exist in english, the tongue is a little softer and a little further back than a rolled r... insert inappropriate joke here). However when I came to the US at 8 years of age, I was new to the place and the language so I let everyone call me whatever they wanted to.

However, when I arrived in high school, a teacher, an awkward but brilliant math teacher whose social skills were reflected that the most excitement I ever saw him have was over graphic calculators, a relatively new thing in the early 90's. He gave one of the best assembly talks, one of the few I remember about being honest to yourself and not trying to hard to compromise to the culture's norm of popularity. It was titled "I wasn't cool the last time the word cool was cool and I'm still not cool now." He was self aware enough to realize his excitement over calculas wasn't shared by everyone about but he could still be excited about e=mc2. However, while he helped teach my generation, one that has grown to be a bit more narcissistic than I'm comfortable with in the age of selfie sticks and self esteem valued above
achievement, he also had the quality in that because he was comfortable in his own skin, he helped other people be comfortable in theirs. There had been lots of teachers who said my name and asked if it was right... I was an immigrant who barely spoke the language when the question was first asked, an awkward elementary schooler who didn't want extra attention about just his name and a kid who had gotten used to it for 6 years, I never once corrected or redirected someone when asked, I'd just answer: "However you want to say it is fine" and me and the teachers, friends, students would move. He would be the first person in my entire academic career that would stop me on the first day of class when going through names and say, "No, tell me how you say it. The correct way to pronounce someone's name is the way they pronounce it." It took him a few tries which to my embarrassment he did in front of everyone but I was in a new town in high school so unlike 3rd through 9th grade, all of my school career was filled with most of my friends and teachers actually saying my name right, a small but yet gigantic thing. In college, a friend who realized he couldn't trill his r's started my most common nickname, "J" my middle initial since on becoming aware of his inability to pronounce it he said "If I'm going to mispronounce your name, I'm going to mispronounce it right." Somehow that phrase stuck with me and while Iram is my preferred name, I'd rather be called J than have it mispronounced.

These moments stuck with me when Kiana's mother and I were expecting a child, I had a baby
naming contest.  (I had very little faith in my own skills; the only pet I've ever taken in who just turned 12 yesterday, well her name is 'puppy'). We all try to make our kids life a little easier and I still remember the easy and cheesy struggles with my name as a kid that felt monumental at the time. I've never gotten a straight answer as to how I ended up with a name from a biblical genealogy that doesn't even have a story attached; my brother's names are a little easier, David and Alonso so I'm guessing I must have kicked a lot more while in the womb. If that's the case, I apologize mom but I was working on these legs early in order to try be a good runner some day. But with my daughter, there were some great names, some which were obviously in humor since people know my irreverence towards life. In the end, we ended up choosing Kiana Lys Leon. This was chosen for many reasons but one of them was that it was pronounced the same in English as in Spanish making it easier for both people from her and my country of birth. Another is that Kiana's mom was raised in Hawaii and Kiana is the Hawaiian moon goddess names (thus the moon motifs in both her room and on the tattoo I have). The middle name Lys is because her mother comes from a French heritage. She's liked her name, it being normal enough and yet standout enough. I've had some fun with the nicknames contrived from it... She says I smell after we run and I say it's her and have nicknamed her Stinkiana and when she's climbing up every tree she gets called Monkiana. When I say things like that she's picked up the quirk that many of my friends and family have. It must be a contagious disease because often when I'm talking their face is somewhere between smiling and rolling their eyes but I haven't gotten any doctor to verify what the disease is.

Still as Kiana gets older, the parenting approach keeps changing. We went to her annual check up and she continues to grow in both height and weight. She asks questions with a curiosity that is far beyond anything I would have ever imagined at that age. She puts a creativity into art and Valentine's that is amazing. It's still cute enough to where it makes me glow and I don't have to censure it (notice that's censure, not censor for people who misunderstood a Facebook post of mine).  I don't know if that age will come when I censure it but somehow,  I hope that day is somehow never and always simultaneously.

Several years ago, I ran my first marathon with Kiana's mom on Valentine's day. I sometimes make references to that in some of my public speeches about how we didn't do a single training run together, didn't run it together, that it's no wonder we broke up. So it was somehow heart warming to get to do this year's Paramount 5k with Kiana and my parents doing it side by side and this year the bibs were heart shaped. Some people may call that cheesy but hey I'm not lactose intolerant. Kiana hadn't done a 5k in almost a year and I reminded her that shorter races hurt more cause you should be going faster. Her latest 10k was at about a 9:10 pace so I thought maybe we'd make this one be her first sub 9 pace, holding somewhere between an 8:50-8:55 pace and kicking in the last quarter of a mile.

When we gunned there was a little boy that sprinted pass her whose dad said pace yourself. Kiana tried to keep up with him immediately and I said look we'll try to catch up but give it a while. She definitely was struggling as she gunned and said to me I'm having a hard time breathing. I let her know we could slow down or walk anytime but we weren't going to quit. She said nah let's just get it done. It was about two tenths of a mile left and her and that same boy traded spots... she won by a few seconds. Both from her picking up her speed at the end despite the pain and her competitive spirit, I was glowing at the end and then realized she'd kept about an 8:33 pace and came in sub 27 almost 3 minutes faster than her last 5k. It was much faster than I had hoped or anticipated. This girl is going to chase boys, she's going to pass them. (The official ones they caught of her finishing were the most tempting ever to buy. )

A few minutes later at 41 minutes my parents came in also both beating their best 5k time and on Valentine's day, having done it side by side showing love both to their son, their granddaughter and each other. The Austin marathon provides a big gong bell that you get to ring if you hit your PR. I am actually not quite sure whether Kiana or my parents hit it with more conviction but I'm okay with that one being called a tie. When the final results came in Kiana had come in literally in the 100th spot and 3rd in females 14 and under. As I saw her pass people of my gender both her age and older, you better believe I want her to keep running like a girl.

But that wasn't the entire day... Kiana hung out with her grandparents a lot more. Somehow they let her get away with a lot more than I did at that age... it must be because she has a better name. I'm not bitter though ;). Then when her and I hung out for Valentine's day she made arts and crafts, a language I still don't understand but still takes up space in pretty much every room in the house.

I learned a rule made of gold when I was young, treat others the way you want to be treated. There was a time when I was a little older than when I learned it but a little younger than that. I thought it was a narcissistic golden rule thinking that it was narrow because I made it too specific. Well if I wanted flowers, I should give others flowers etc. It's taken me a few years to learn that it may well be just like pronouncing someone's name, you pronounce it the way they pronounce it for it to be right. Kiana and I still have some races coming up, she has a brand new sets of arts and crafts and I still love and am loved my parents, friends and family with conviction. I think that's the right way to pronounce mine and their name.







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