"What is your name?"

It's the beginning of the class in kindergarten and my teacher is taking the attendance:

"Sarah? Leo? Matt? Anna? Umm . . . E . . . Eb . . . " She furrows her eyebrows and tries to pronounce the weird combination of E, B, R, A, and R. 

At this point, you recognize that confused face that the teacher is making. Yes, that’s your name! 

"Ebrar, you mean?" I say. 

My name, given to me by my Turkish parents, has always been spelled or pronounced wrong. At some point, I even started introducing myself with the wrong pronunciation of my name just to make people’s lives easier. However, a couple of months ago, while we were talking with my friends, two friends of mine kindly told everyone that they wanted to be called as the culturally correct pronunciations of their names. That made me think a little bit about the connection I had with my name over the years. 

My name is Ebrar Zeynep Yilmaz. My names—Ebrar and Zeynep—are the Turkish forms of the names Abrar and Zainab, which originated from Arabic. My dad wanted to name me Ebrar which means “good person” or “heaven’s rose” and my mom wanted to name me Zeynep which means “daddy’s precious.” (Tbh I didn’t know the meaning of my name until last year.)

P.S. Unlike my middle name, my first name is really rare in Turkey (I think I've only met 3 people who are named Ebrar.)

When I was in kindergarten (in Brooklyn, NY), the teachers called me by my first name and they'd often pronounce it differently than how my parents did. One time, they even spelled it wrong when they were exhibiting our work for the parents. (I still have a picture of my drawing labelled “Ebar.”) 

In second grade, my family moved to our homeland, Istanbul, Turkey. On the first day of school, when the teacher asked me to introduce myself to the class, I used my middle name “Zeynep” because I thought my friends would be able to pronounce my middle name since there are already 3 Zeynep’s in the room (being Zeynep in Turkey is like being Anna in the U.S.) Since second grade, everyone in the school knew me as Zeynep. As I grew up, it became a part of my life: everyone in the school would call me Zeynep and my family would call me Ebrar. I liked them the same, just in different contexts. 

Seven years later, when I was in high school, we moved back to the U.S. and I started using my first name in school (again). This time I started pronouncing it the way that many Americans pronounce it. But I've realized that I wasn’t as bothered as I was when I was in kindergarten. 

I’m realizing now that in kindergarten since almost all of my friends had American names, I felt excluded. But in high school, other people also had foreign names and teachers cared about the right pronunciations of our names. Now, I feel like people are more aware of praising differences among people. Even if I give them the slightly different pronunciation of my name, they would insist on asking how my parents pronounce it at home (you caught me!). 

The weird facial expression when I introduced myself has turned into an excited, “Wow, such a unique name!” and “sounds poetic!” reaction. Me telling the meaning of my name got even more WOWs! “Your parents probably thought a lot to name you” and many more comments praised my name. 

As children of non-American parents, some moments can make us imagine how different life would be if we were born with an American name. But I've realized that our names are actually a huge part of our identity. Each one has a story, a meaning that our parents thought about when naming us (almost a legacy from our parents). Our names are worthy enough to be praised by everyone.

To sum everything up, there are two takeaways from this article: One, asking people for the correct pronunciation of their name and your effort to at least try pronouncing it right will make them feel welcomed and belong to that place. Second, try to find the best way to connect with your name; don’t feel ashamed or unlucky—it is your legacy; protect it. Maybe you should start by learning the story behind your name. I’m pretty sure your parents thought a lot to name you!