People do not call me by my name…

Photo credit: Pinterest

I will get right to the point here. Let me first state it out in the open: Saad is my first name, Ali my middle, and Faizi my last. So, you add all of them up, and you get a full Saad Ali Faizi. You see, I prefer being referred by four-letter monosyllable of a first name, Saad, yet many call me by my middle name, Ali, and it is honestly my own fault. When you are a non-local, living in a foreign land, and want to gel with others, you want to make it easier for everyone around you in every possible manner. And sometimes, you end up compromising with your own self in doing so.

So, let's first perform an autopsy on this corpse of a predicament. As simple as the name Saad might sound, it is strangely hard to pronounce for many. At this risk of sounding too petty, my name, having Arabic origins and formally written as سعد, requires some effort from your pharynx midway during the pronunciation. It’s Sa’ad. This means one must narrow their vocal tract midway during the articulation, such that the airstream is directed along the center of the tongue rather than to the sides when the air escapes from the back of the throat. But I do not want to complicate things for people around me. A simple ‘Saad’ (Read: sAAd) suffices. However, if you go on calling me ‘Sad’, then it is, in fact, pretty sad! The two a’s you see in my name are there for a reason. While not a rare name at all (try South Asia, or the Middle East), Saad is much less heard of in places, like Hong Kong. So, how about Faizi? Well, you be the judge of that: 1) Faizi is much less common than Saad; 2) Faizi gets mispronounced as ‘Fizzy’; and to top it all, 3) there are much more accomplished Faizis in my family already (my elder brother, being one of the many) for it to qualify as my sole identity. Ali, on the other hand, is obviously more common. You hear and see the name Ali everywhere. Ali is out there sharing apples and cakes with John, Katy, and Mary in elementary-level math books. Ali is every other Muslim character in Hollywood movies and western TV shows. Ali is a part of Mahershala Ali, Ali G., Ali Larter, Ali Fazal, Ali Wong, Alibaba, Ali Express, and most importantly, the legendary, Muhammad Ali himself. You, thus, become quite sure that no one can go wrong with Ali (just to your utter shock and dismay though, people still mispronounce Ali as ‘Alley’, but those are just a disappointing few). So, you decide to go with the most favorable option amongst the three — Ali, and it works out well for you!

When I started university, I chose to tell people that they can refer to me as Ali. My professors and university batchmates, hence, knew me as Ali, and so did my colleagues and boss, during my internship. Even my dorm caretaker developed a habit of shrieking out a high-pitched Ali every time she found the kitchen countertop peppered with spilled curry powder. Things seemed hunky-dory at first, but as time passed by, I started feeling increasingly deceitful to the people around me. I started feeling an urgency to start using the name that I actually owned — my real identifier: Saad. That is not to say that I do not own the other two names, Ali and Faizi, but why to opt for family properties when you have sole custody. So, after graduation, I rebranded myself as Saad, and every person I met from thereon, including my current colleagues and boss, refer to me with the four letters, instead of the other three.

One might then be curious to know about my status with the people from my past. Well, this is where the confusion starts since the people from my immediate past still know me as Ali. In my defense, I did not think it would be necessary to clear out this ridiculous dilemma. I believed that my undergraduate years were behind me and my internship days were long gone. I was convinced of how I would not have any interaction with my professors anymore and how I would slowly even lose touch with my university batchmates. The farewell I had bid hence felt final after all. To my dismay, I was wrong. Case in point 1: Soon after my graduation, I started to work with one of my professors on her research during the weekends. Nowadays, whenever she or her associates refer to me as Ali during a meeting or in an email, it takes me a solid second, or two, to realize who they are referring to. Case in point 2: I still occasionally bump into my batchmates at the most random of places, from external workshops and seminars, coffee shops to even construction sites. Most interestingly, however, is Case in point 3: how I also ran into my former boss (from my days of internship) a while back in an annual engineering conference. Honestly, that encounter deserves its own separate story, but I will paint a brief picture for you all here: you are standing close to the food station during coffee time, shamelessly devouring as many of the free tiny pastries as you can. You suddenly get tapped on the shoulder. It’s your ex-boss! You express excitement, hurriedly chew up whatever remains in your mouth and start catching up with him. Your current boss sees you chatting, walks from behind, and swoops in the conversation. You then find out that the two actually know each other fairly well. Midway through the conversation (and during all your praises from both ends), your ex-boss exclaims his surprise to find out how Ali (aka you) is working for your current boss’s team now. Your current boss looks at him bewildered and enquires who Ali is. He knows you as Saad. He looks at you for a second, and asks again, ‘you mean Saad, right?’ Now you see both of them looking at you, questioning your identity (and honestly, your existence) through their puzzled stares. You remember now how you had changed your identity a year back, unbeknownst to your ex-boss. You take charge of the situation, chime in to clarify the brewing confusion, brandish your full name, and have a good, yet awkward laugh about it (much to your own expense). This name confusion is mindless and unnecessary, yet very true.

So, how should I proceed ahead with making things right? Well, I can always just send out a blast email or message to everyone from my past, who still refer to me as Ali, clarifying about this self-inflicted conundrum and updating about my ‘true identity. Yet, I have been unable to straighten things out, and it is honestly hard to explain why. To simply put it, it is just an awkward thing to do. It is, in fact, vaguely similar to the time when Chandler struggled to come clean to his colleague, Bob, about his own real name. (Any Friends fans here?) I need to come clean about my ‘Toby’ identity too. I just cannot deal with people of my past, present, and future getting into such an idiotic dilemma again, and staring at me together, with bewilderment and revolt from an outright betrayal. But who is to say that I will have more of such coincident encounters in the future? So, I still hesitate to come clean. It is always easier for me to put this matter to a tomorrow in the meantime. But, what would have you done if you were in my situation? How would have you dealt with this matter? Would you carry ahead with your life nonchalant about this entire ordeal, or would you make things right before proceeding ahead with life?

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Saad Ali Faizi

Saad Ali Faizi

Engineer by day, writer by night, thinker at all times