Ahal Alawad

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.

20 thoughts on “Ahal Alawad

  1. Sara – this really made me smile! My parents chose Irish names for me and my brother, but unusual Irish names. I’ve had a lifetime of mispronunciation and mispelling. But I’ve also had Irish people tell me (not ask me, mind) “But you’re not Irish”. It went along with the statement “You’re not blind”. I get less of the latter these days because no-one thinks you’re blind if you use a wheelchair. But my name still gets mangled on a thoroughly regular basis. And my brother, who’s lived outside Ireland for many years, now seems to my ear to have a slightly different name. It’s strange to realise that the rest of the world doesn’t seem able to hear or speak your name. I wear mine with pride, because the alternative is to lose my name altogether.

  2. I really enjoy your blogs. Always looking forward to the next one. This one I can actually personally relate. My parents really should have thought about giving me a name that rhymes with the German word for bra, primary school kids love this kind of stuff. At University in the UK was often asked where my name was from, in that polite British way of asking ” Where are you from?” (Which I didn’t realized at the beginning) and after “Greece” none asked further. So I went through Uni being Greek rather than German without realizing. And with my name pronounced Ria, which I hate. And then there are letters addressed to Mr. Rhea… In Sudan it was rather a handy name to have, not too strange and adaptable. Raya works for me. However after being sensitive to miss pronunciations when I was younger, by now start with an “R” and I will respond. Even to Rob or Ryan.

    • Rhea! Your comment confirms my theory that little kids are evil, lol. But thanks for sharing this – it’s nice to know that we aren’t the only ones who go through it. Hope you’re doing well! πŸ™‚

  3. Sudanese people used to be β€œnamed-oriented”; your
    name told others about your tribe, ethnic group and the region where you were born. But now, things have changed, like many other things. Maybe a new theory should branch out of this post: Parents should choose names that can easily be written, read, spelt, pronounced, understood with comprehensible output in all languages! How does that sound? LOL. Thank you for putting a smile on my face yaaa… Sara? Sarah? Sarra? Alsara? lol

    • LOL! People also just spell my name however they want with no concern for my feelings, and that drives me *insane*.

      I think you should give your child a name that means something, and I think people should respect that name, regardless of whether it is foreign or not. Giving someone a nickname, or just calling them something else because it’s “easier” for you is an insult to that person. Putting in a minimum of effort goes a long way.

      • Despite all the hassle around my name, I’m very pleased and proud to have a name that is both unusual and Irish. How you spell your name here in Ireland can be pretty political; more so if you’re from Northern Ireland or if you move to England or America. Many Irish people get asked “What’s the English for that?” if they spell or pronounce their name in a particularly “Irish” way.
        I get a secondary cringe when people think they’re giving their children Irish names, but pronounce them as if they were English. For example, the Old Irish name Γ‰taΓ­n would be Anglicised as Aideen, but there are folk (yes, even Irish folk!) who would pronounce it “Ettane”, as if it were an English word.
        This might seem complicated, but I can imagine there are similarities to having a name from a non-Latin alphabet transliterated (and mangled!) – most often by Western Europeans…

  4. I can also relate to this. My mother’s name is ma7fooza, she said that when she was at primary school girls used to tease her with (ma7fooza wala nasheed) as a joke, not bullying. And to be honest I like the fact that her name is different, now whenever someone asks me inta walad mino I reply “walad ma7ooza” it either they know my parents or don’t….b5t9r al mawdo3 xD.
    I also enjoy how some people misspell it lyk “ma7ro9a” or lyk this one time someone woman called her “ma3foo9a” she was lyk “allah y3f9ik ya m3fo9a”πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ν ½
    I really enjoyed reading this one :)…keep going

  5. I’ve had the same experience with my grandfather’s name which is also Awad, growing up carrying such a name used to make me nervous each time I was asked to give my full name, because I didn’t anticipate the jokes that would follow. Now that I’m all grown up I realized the meaning & the significance of that name to my family & it doesnt bother me anymore

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