This week‘s Writing Challenge is extremely personal. To share the power of someone’s name is, I think, a very intimate thing to do. In the case of my name, I really truly believe that it always has some power and one of its power is to be a great ice-breaker.
For me, it is always super fun to see someone’s face whenever I introduce myself. Although, that is not always the case for native English speakers.
Whenever I say “my name is Alien (read: ah-lee-yen)“ to native English speakers, especially white people, I can always feel their brains work on that new information. I can sense their brains are matching my face with my skin colour and my accent and the unfamiliar sound of my name. I can always tell that their brains decide all four components match (in most cases, all four components are equally confusing for them). Their brains would tell them to just accept the unfamiliarity, smile and say their own names back.
So, for me, personally, as narcissistic as I could be about my unique name, introducing my name to native English speakers, especially the white people, are not fun.
The fun comes whenever I say my name to non-native English speakers. Basically, whenever I say, “my name is Alien”, they would immediately say, “excuse me? Alien?”, and the sentence usually comes with a pack of smile along with a hint of surprise. I would then smile back and the ice between me and these strangers will break.
My name really is a great conversation-starter. Usually, after I say “my name is Alien”, people would look at me in disbelief and they would say “what did you say your name was?”. I would answer with, “Alien, like ‘alien and the UFO’ – ET?”
After that, people would stare at me for a few seconds and then the real conversation begin. Why did my parents give me that name? What does it mean? Is it really my name or is it more like a nickname? What is my full name? Do I like my name? Do I get teased or bullied because of my name? Is it a common name in wherever I am from? And the list of questions goes on and on and on.
I do not always go by “Alien”, though. For example, at home I am called “Dhea” (read: dee-ya). In fact, my friends from kindergarden and elementary school still call me “Dhea”, along with some of my parents’ friends who knew me ever since I was a baby. Both names originate from my first name: Aliendheasja, so it should not matter which name people use to call me nowadays, should it? Wrong.
I always secretly dislike the name “Dhea” – I always like “Aliendheasja” but never just “Dhea”. I never feel that it suits me as a person.
In fact, when I was about 5, I questioned my parents’ decision to call me “Dhea”. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was in my parents’ room and I bluntly asked my parents why I was called “Dhea” – at that time, I was not aware of my full name, I think even my parents thought that Aliendheasja Fawilia is a hard name to pronounce and spell for a 5 year-old. I do not remember what my parents said but I remember it was not making any sense.
Then I boldly told my parents that I do not like the name “Dhea” and I demanded them to change my name. My parents asked me what name would be more suitable for me and I remember I thought about a new name for days and days – I remember I dissected each and every friends’ names with no success.
Eventually, I gave up. I could not come up with a better suitable name right then but deep in my heart, I made a promise that I have to change my name.
The opportunity to change what people call me came when I start going to school in another island in Indonesia. I had to make new friends, adjust in a new home, blend in at a new school, memorised a new phone number, practically starting a new life.
That was when (I was 11 then) I decided to change my name. That was when it felt like I had paused my thoughts about a new name for 6 years and it was time to press the “resume” button. At that time, I thought about a lot of my friends who constantly teased me about having “Alien” as a name and by then I was done weeping and I started to feel proud of it.
That thought was my turning point. I decided that I am going to be called “Alien” from that point forward.
It was pretty awkward at the very beginning, to be 11 and to introduce yourself as “Alien” in a totally new environment. I literally felt like an alien then. But I realised the magic within the name “Alien”.
Right when I was 11, I understood how my name can have the power as an ice-breaker between a total stranger and I. I realised how fun it is to introduce myself as “Alien” and to see other people’s reactions. Right then, I felt like I found myself.
I believe that we should ignore Shakespeare‘s infamous “what’s in a name?” line. We should understand the true power within our names, embrace it and use it. Because a name truly is the best prayer and gift our parents have given us. I honestly think that I would be a totally different person if my name is not Aliendheasja Fawilia or if I still go by “Dhea”. It is that powerful.