Once upon a time – back when people liked sporting hairstyles that were visible from outer space, music was trapped in rectangular plastic contraptions with ribbony tapes that were more likely to get tangled than play your favourite tunes, and slapping your wrists with fabric-covered steel strips was considered cool for some reason – I was born.
My very excited khala, legend has it, called my very excited naani from the hospital and delivered the very exciting news of my arrival. “Beti hui hai. Bohot piyari hai, bilkul guriya jaisi,” she said (or so I’m told; I was too busy screaming and shouting at the injustice of having to exist to pay the slightest attention to other people’s feelings about my existence.)
It took my parents a few days to decide what my legal name would be. After a false start with “Farnaz” (the Persian for elegant, charming), which was discarded quickly because they didn’t want people to end up calling me “Nazi” (because yikes!), they – and by “they” I mean my mom and a copy of the Feroz-ul-Lughat – landed on the name “Sameen”, a Persian word for precious, invaluable.
(The fact that Sameen is a boys’ name clearly did not dampen my parents’ christening spirits. Either that or they intentionally picked a boys’ name because this world is rough and if a woman’s gonna make it, she’s gotta be tough, and I ought to thank them before I die, for the gravel in my guts and the spit in my ey … never mind.)
By the time the name was finalized though, another moniker had very empathically laid claim to my person – the descriptor from the original proclamation about me joining the land of the living: Guriya.
I was, apparently, a cute baby, so the name applied. And then it stuck, even when it didn’t apply anymore (unless the guriya in question was the Bride of Chucky).
So pretty much from day one, I was Guriya to everyone around me. Or at least everyone close to me.
My parents called me Guriya. Unless they were mad at me. If you heard either of them shouting “SAMEEN!” in my general direction … safe to assure I was in some kind of trouble.
My grandmother, our neighbours, the maids – they all called me Guriya.
But then there were the relatives and acquaintances who knew full well what my nickname was and chose not to use it, calling me by my real name instead. I know not the reasoning behind their choice (my inability to read minds can be so infuriating sometimes), nor do I want to hazard a guess. But how it felt to me was this: odd.
I’d grown so accustomed to being referred to by my nickname that being called by my real name almost felt (and still feels) a little jarring. And it also seemed like the person who was choosing to use my full name was trying to show that they wanted to keep me at arm’s length and didn’t want us to be close.
(It also didn’t help that after I started writing, the more I saw my name in print, the more I dissociated from it. ‘Cause “Sameen Amer” was obviously, like, this cool chick who was mingling with the famouses and getting Tomatometer approved. Meanwhile, I was just silly old me. So I clearly wasn’t her.)
But anyway, my lovely friends more than made up for any wet blankets by making sure they referred to me by any name but Sameen.
My name came with a built-in nickname, lucky for those who didn’t know my childhood moniker. I was Sam to my class fellows. And Sammy to my close friends. And Sammy Wammy Supergirl of the clan McAwesome to my sister.
There have, however, been some holdouts along the way, even in my close circle. Two to be precise.
One is my “childhood” friend Xulfi. He has known me for two decades. He has been calling me Sameen for two decades. Despite the fact that he knows I don’t like it. Which is ironic for a guy who is known to virtually everyone by his nickname. In retaliation, I decided I’d call him what literally no one else calls him: Zulfiqar. Turns out he loves it. So that kinda backfired.
The other is a friend who calls me Sameen because he says “Sameen is hot“. Which ... yes I am, but what does that have to do with my name? (Also, he thinks “Guriya” is “uncool”. Le gasp! Like, how dare he?! Off with his head!)
Unlike these two, however, most people close to me have simply chosen their own monikers for me, without any prompting. And this love of nicks, by the way, runs in my family and my friend circle too.
Everyone close to my mom called her Nili instead of Nilofar. My sister Anne is my Anny Bananny (sorry girl!). And Xulfi is, you know, Xulfi.
Come to think of it, it’s not just us. Destiny Hope legally changed her name to her childhood nickname, Miley. Chloe Celeste became Dove as a tribute to her late father, who called her that as a nickname. We all know Peter Gene as Bruno, a moniker given to him by his father. And where would Jimmy McGill be if he hadn’t turned into Saul Goodman? Ok, he’d probably be in a better place, but I digress.
So anyway, short story shorter: have name, don’t like being called by it.
It is a very pretty name though. It’s unique; it’s musical; it has a lovely meaning. But to me – and it might just be based on my very individual experiences – there can sometimes be so much more apnaiyat in a nickname.
So if you must, call me Sameen. But if you love me, might I suggest Guriya?