Call me... anything!

By: Sumaita Mahmood

When I was four years old, my 94 year old neighbor could not pronounce my name for the life of her. I would repeat it many times breaking it up into three clear sounds “Sue”, “My”, and “Tah”. But, for the life of her, my neighbor could not remember my name and it would embarrass her so much. I still remember the moment when she changed my name.
“Can I call you Samantha? I knew lots of wonderful Samanthas back in the day.” I happily said yes to the prospect of not having a constant struggle with my neighbor. But, I did not realize the initial consequences. While everyone else called me by my given name, my neighbor always called me Samantha, and then later changed it to Sam (because sometimes even Samantha is a pain to say). I did not mind this is as a child because plenty of people still called me by real name and I thought probably old age had something to do with this slight identity problem. But, then, I started going to high school in Manhattan and entered an atmosphere I never had experienced before: Starbucks.
I remember the first time I lied about my name. After repeating my name so many times to the barista, I blurted out “Sam” to the barista, who made no note of it. I, on the other hand, had a slight identity crisis. I remember sitting by the window in the coffee shop, staring at the black Sharpie letters that wrote out Sam. As someone who had always taken pride in the melodious sound of my name, I was upset to see myself slowly adopting a fake name. Many people like me of Indian subcontinent origins often adopt Americanized versions of their name very early on in elementary school. A common example of this is changing a name such as Jasmeet to a shortened version like “Jaz”.  Friends at school had tried this before on my name, but I had managed to thwart this and hold onto my identity for so long. But, now I found myself changing it on my own because of convenience.
I used my fake name at restaurants for quite a while after that initial attempt. Only until after my friend from high school had gotten upset and pointed out how wrong it was did I decide to try using my real name once more. But, a year later, I once again had a bad experience with my name at Panera Bread. The cashier misheard my name and thought that my name was “Spidey” as in Spiderman. And, while it was incredibly embarrassing to pick up my soup and bread under the false nickname of Spiderman, I had a revelation. I realized that I could say any name to them and it wouldn’t matter at all. The idea of opting for a fake name had caused me a great amount of inner reflection, but in reality the small name change didn’t mean a thing. In fact, the idea was appealing. For a few minutes a day, whilst ordering coffee or other type of meal, I could assume a different identity without any consequence. And, that was a magical during  times of great stress.
Suddenly, I wasn’t Sumaita, the girl with a paper due in an hour and still stuck on the first sentence. I had acquired my own small moment of peace and solitude in the hectic school life that I live. I could be Spidey, revealing my identity to just the barista. I could be Gertrude, an unfortunate accident. When a barista next asks for a name, I would rather have a little fun with it than stand their anunicating my name for the umpteenth time. I would rather have them call me anything.



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