My name is Reda

It means contentment in Arabic

My mother gave me my name in reverence, finding meaning in a word that she could love her entire life

Most days my name is part-time worker

And full-time student, pre-med

My name is proud Muslim woman. Pakistani. American. Activist

My name is teacher, volunteer, sister, daughter, friend.

Names, I’ve realized, are extremely important

They are gateways into a history, family background, belief system, and religion of a person

A name is an identity that encompasses all that you are.

When they say my name

It is glass shards on the edge of a throat

It is a hesitant pause and a question mark

When they say my name

It is terrorist and foreigner

It is “do not belong” and alien

So when I introduce myself,

Mispronounced names are common

When they say Rita?

I find myself sighing, afriad of not fitting in

And saying “yes”

Hoping a four letter name fits in their mouth

Erasing my own identity with a single word, fitting into an ideal I didn’t even know I yearned for

And when they ask me what I want to name my future children,

I say things like “Sara” because it’s close enough to “Sarah” and no way would she stand out with a name like that

I am contorting my image to fit into one that is easier on the eyes

My brown skin may be a marker of the prejudice I will always face, but there was no reason I should allow my name to be

When you’re the only brown girl in the room, you find yourself wanting to shrink

So when a Reda turns into Rita

Or a Muhammad turns into Moe

A culture begins to be sanded down to fit into a country’s ideals

Each time I allow my name to be pronounced Rita, I allow the beauty of my religion, the beauty of my culture to be cast in a film it did not audition for

And it is time that this film ends.

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