Can You Tell Me Your Name Again?

We’re now in the room alone, just me and this young girl from Afghanistan.

I have to ask her name again. I didn’t catch it the first time. Or the second time. Not even when the other adults pronounced it.

And honestly? Even as the girl herself tells me her name now, and I try to echo it back, I still don’t think I’m getting it right.

But she doesn’t correct me.

She just smiles and we go on, doing our best to understand each other.

Her parents want her exposed to more English before school starts in the fall. She already speaks some, but it’s difficult for her.

I want her to practice reading to me. But the first book we open is too hard for her. She’s 7 years old. But she can’t read the book. Not in English anyway.

We try flash cards with the English alphabet. She doesn’t know the sounds of the letters. But she does know the names of each one. That’s something. Plus she thinks it is fun.

But we’ve finished the stack of cards. And now it’s time for reading again.

I pick up the second book. I’ll just read it to her, then we can talk about it.

I read the title first. And I immediately know this book. The girl had picked it out herself among the other books on the table at the beginning of the hour. She couldn’t have consciously understood the significance of it.

But I understand.

And as I read this book to her now, my heart both warms and aches.

The book? Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow.

Your Name Is a Song

It’s about a girl whose classmates and teacher can’t pronounce her name.

Saddened by this, the girl in the story walks home, vowing never to return to school again.

But the mother in the book turns it around. She teachers her daughter the beauty of names, including hers. She turns names into the beautiful musical lyrics that names are. The girl returns to school the next day to teach the message to others.

I finish reading this story to my new little Afghan friend, whose name I can’t pronounce. I doubt she sees the irony.

So I ask her name one more time. And this time, I also ask if she can write her name on a piece of paper for me. She can and does.

I try pronouncing it again.

I still can’t say it exactly right. But maybe I’m a little closer.

I don’t get to meet the girl’s mother at the end of our session. But I pray that her mother is like the girl’s mother in the book. That she teaches her daughter the value of her beautiful name, her unique heritage, and this amazing journey she is on.

I’m grateful that at least for this day, I get to be a witness to this portion of her journey. I’ll remember it.

And even if I can’t pronounce her name properly, I’ll remember her. 

Do people ever struggle to pronounce your name? Sometimes my last name is mispronounced, but never my first name.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

20 thoughts on “Can You Tell Me Your Name Again?

  1. Corinne Rodrigues

    This is so moving, Lisa. What a wonderful thing you are doing? I hope this girl grows up to enjoy the acceptance of her classmates and becomes a strong, resilient, young woman! And I’m certain she’ll remember you with affection and gratitude for caring to write down her name and learn how to pronounce it.
    ‘Your name is a song’ sounds like a beautiful story!

  2. Martha J Orlando

    What a moving story, Lisa! You might not be able to pronounce this little girl’s name, but no doubt, you won’t forget this experience. And I’m willing to bet that she’ll remember you, too.

  3. Liz Dexter

    A lovely piece, thank you. I fortunately married an easy surname after living for 42 years with one that was always mispronounced and spelled incorrectly in the same way! First name is fine, though!

  4. Joanne Viola

    How amazing that the Lord crossed your paths, her name, and the book! This experience is a beautiful reminder of the significance of our names and our lives. We are all precious in His sight.

  5. David

    Two lovely stories!

    Yanks and Brits and funny foreign names smh. I have a funny foreign name, which has been mangled ever since I started going to school. Biggest eye-openers though have been more recently when I’ve started working on really international teams (ie not mainly Brits/Yanks with one or two foreigners): everybody mangles everybody else’s name. Current team I’m on: there’s a Hungarian and I’m sure everyone gets his name wrong apart from one of the Russians; there’s a French-Canadian and everyone on the team pronounces his name differently. I once spoke at a statistics conference in Thailand with speakers from Thailand, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, etc … nobody could pronounce anybody else’s name. It was kind of hilarious.

    Will you meet the Afghan girl again? Can she say your name? Can you break her name down into syllables? Even though I am hardened, it has a big effect when someone manages to get my name right. You can do it (you have some Spanish, no?)

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      The wider our circles, the more likely we’ll mispronounce each other’s names. Seeing it as hilarious is a plus. 🙂 I once had regular conversations with a lovely man from Vietnam who was trying to speak more proper English. Not only were there words he couldn’t pronounce, but there were certain sounds his mouth just wouldn’t make, just like my mouth struggled to make some of the sounds that were native to his language.

      The little girl never tried to say my name so I’m not sure if she could say it or not. Breaking her name into syllables is a great suggestion. I’ll have to remember that tip!

      I do know some Spanish, but just enough to get me in trouble. Too many times I’ve spoken a smattering of it, only to have the Spanish speaker begin speaking to me in rapid-fire Spanish, and me then understanding NONE of it. 🙂

  6. Donna B Reidland

    I think we have all found ourselves in similar situations. But I love how instead of focusing on your own discomfort, you focused so much on this little girl and how she was processing it all. I have to believe that she sensed that even with the language barrier.

  7. Jerralea Winn Miller

    What a touching story! Kudos to you on your sensitivity. It’s just like God to arrange the little girl to pick out the perfect book for your session.

    I do understand how it is to get your name pronounced wrong. I married a Miller, so I was determined my girls’ names would be a little different and feminine. Yet they do often get their names mis-pronounced.

  8. Jean Wise

    What a beautiful story and great lesson. Knowing another’s name is a form of intimacy too. Respect too. Sometimes I forget the power of saying names. Good reminder and love this book too.

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