In my family, I was the lucky one; I had the easy name – Sara. People asked me which way I preferred my name to be pronounced, not how to pronounce it. Four letters that helped you fit in, both in English and Arabic. My last name was somewhat tricky to foreign tongues, but still manageable with some practice.
This is my dad, Awad
…How do you spell that?
I quickly learned to feel inconvenienced by my father’s name. Four letters that spelled nothing but difficulty. A throaty beginning, an anchor-heavy end. The alternative wasn’t much better; his name was anglicized into a lump – “a wad”. My father was reduced in foreign mouths to cotton balls. So I actively avoided mentioning it. When asked, I would utter it in a hurry, “Awad, A-W-A-D, it’s very difficult to pronounce, just call him Mr. Elhassan”. I never made eye contact during the exchange.
No one has a problem pronouncing my father’s name here. In fact, it’s the main component of a playful and very widely used insult in Sudanese vernacular – ahal al awad – used to describe simple, rural folk, and roughly translates to ‘country bumpkin’. It is an expression that I hadn’t had the pleasure of learning until I came to Sudan six years ago.
Ahal al awad da aljaabu Ozone shinu? [what’s this country bumpkin doing at Ozone*?]
Haha, da wa7id 3ireibi, talgaahu hassi ismu Awad wala 7aja! [he’s just a hick, I bet his name is Awad or something]
I quickly learned to feel ashamed of my father’s name. Three letters that labeled you tacky, classless, unsophisticated. Each time I heard the ahal al awad joke, I would chuckle nervously, and try to forget that that last word was my father’s name. I tried to forget that my father came from that same place that people mock. I tried forget that they were talking about my family. I never made eye contact.
My father’s name is Awad. We don’t have baby name books in Sudan, but if we did, my father’s name would not appear in the top picks. To many, my father’s name is unattractive and difficult to pronounce, in both Arabic and English. It screams hillbilly.
Translated, my father’s name means ‘replacement’. His parents named him that because he survived when 3 siblings who came before him did not. Born in a time when child mortality was a certainty and child survival a miracle, my father’s name served as protection – from the evil eye, from luck running out, from death. My father is part of a generation that carried ugly names as shields. My father’s name is a testament to God’s benevolence and mercy, and proof of his parents’ gratitude. My father’s name means life.
*Ozone is an upscale cafe in Khartoum.