What’s in a Name?

Sara: In most cultures, it translates to princess. Chosen at random by parents who were facing cultural shock, perhaps they were trying to fit into a nation they had no grasp of. And so maybe my name was meant to signify a link to this new society they had stepped into.

And oftentimes, that’s all I think I am. A connection. A link.

When I was growing up, people would look at me quizzically, as if those four letters that made up my identity shouldn’t have fit with the little girl they saw standing in front of them. Dark skin, large eyes, quiet voice, parents with broken English. I should have had a name that would be hard to pronounce at the beginning of every school year. I should have had a name that reflected the culture I came from.

But Sara means princess in Hebrew and Spanish. Funny, even though I’ve known that fact my entire life, I’ve never once felt like one. In Urdu, used in a different context, it means much. And that was my only connection to my parents’ language. But I decided if that’s all I meant, then that’s all I would ever be. I would always be too much. Too many thoughts, too much anger, too much sadness, just too much. And when I saw my friends’ tired gestures, and my parents exasperated faces, I always told myself I was just fulfilling what my name had destined for me.

I’ve lived the past eighteen years with my name guiding me, and I never once stopped to question if what I was doing was wrong. If I was looking for something meaningful in a name that literally could have been anything. And I wonder if my parents chose my siblings names to be more traditional because they didn’t want to lose all of their kids.

Learn from the mistakes of the first.

Don’t repeat with the rest.

And once in a while I would entertain the notion that maybe I had been their princess. Maybe once upon a time I had been all they had ever wanted.

But lately it feels like I’ve become the villain in my own story. And every choice I make always seems to be the wrong one, everything I say always comes out in a jumble of words I never meant, and without meaning to, it always seems like I hurt the people around me.

Always too much.

I wish I could take my name and rearrange it, as if by moving the letters around maybe I’ll be able to find the secret combination that will make me be better. But every day I stare down at the word and think about how tightly bound my heart and soul are to these four letters. And maybe I can’t find the secret combination because a small part of me knows that there’s no point.

Sara is more than just a name. It’s my mom’s voice as she calls me down to talk- sometimes her voice is lilted with happiness, other times it’s weighed down by sadness. It’s my sister’s tone when she looks at me exasperated as I let go of my age. It’s my teacher’s way of calling me back to the present, gently shaking the dust of wanderings away from me. It is everything in my life that I will never be able to forget.

Sara: I can say it clearly, holding back a sigh of exasperation as people ask if there’s an “h” at the end. I can fit my hands to spell it out easily, sometimes doing it absentmindedly during the day when I feel myself drifting away. Ever since I was young, I learned how to write it in Urdu, the cursive lettering flowing across the page.



And yet, eighteen years later, on some days I feel completely isolated from my name. My mouth struggles to make sense of the word, jerkily shaking my head when asked about the spelling. My hands falter when I try to find the rhythm, and I stare down in confusion and fear. When I set my pen to paper, I am halted, unable to catch the unknown letters drifting through my mind.

Some days, I become a stranger to myself.

And on these days, I learn how important my name really is to me.

And what brings me back is my mom’s voice echoing up the stairs, my sister’s shifting tone, my teacher’s clear pronunciation.

What brings me back is remembering that Sara means princess, and even though I have never once seen myself that way, once upon a time my parents did. And once upon a time I was never the villain in my own story- just a girl who was waiting for life to sweep her off her feet.

Learning from what happened.

Not willing to give up.

What brings me back is my brother and sister- their names that are so much more traditional, but mean nothing to me because all I see when I look at them is family.

What brings me back is knowing that my name means much. And the link that connects me to my parents is something I’ll always be grateful for because I never want to forget that I exist in the midst of two shifting cultures. I am too much. Too much curiosity, too many questions. Too much eagerness, too much willingness.

What brings me back is remembering that my name was chosen at random by parents who were facing cultural shock, and who wanted to form a connection to this new society that they had found themselves in the center of.

I remember how one of my first introductions to my favorite teacher was her spending twenty minutes talking about her name, and how much it meant to her. Looking around, I could see how captivated everyone was with her presence.

Everyone wants to believe that their name means something, that it provides an explanation.

And later, they would all share stories of what their name meant.


“Oh, you know, princess. Nothing really special.” I would say slowly, giving a quick smile before ducking my head down.

I wasn’t a fighter, or a flower, or noble, or kind. I wasn’t gentle, or light, or generous. I wasn’t hard-working, soft-spoken, or light-bringer. I was just…


I was okay with that.

And it took me eighteen years, but I finally understood why a name was so special.



One thought on “What’s in a Name?

  1. I just noticed your blog name – Nice. I struggle with my name because people always have an assumption about it. “Misty Dawn” so they always ask if I’m a hippy or if I changed my name…occasionally “That sounds like a porn star” lol


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