I have a every English sounding name and coupled with the whiteness of my skin, the blondness of my hair and Americanized accent I have always had a hard time asserting my Arabhood. This has been something that has plagued me since my childhood. I knew I was an Arab, and I knew I didn’t want to be mistook for an American, German, British, French…etc. person and having Sally as a name didn’t help. And so in my attempts at asserting my identity I have had a turbulent relationship with my name as it is the second thing people usually know about me after taking a look at me.

When I was younger I fantasized about changing my name to Salma. Why Salma? I am not a 100% sure. I think it might be that when I heard it I loved its ring? Maybe because it was connected to Abu Salma, a Palestinian poet who is also a relative and though I haven’t read his poetry (hangs head in shame), the name drew me. I love the name Salma so much that a few years ago I adopted a cat named Sally with a friend and it got so confusing that we named her Salma instead- and she took to the name beautifully.

But I didn’t change my name instead I consulted every dictionary and baby name book I could find and always looked up my name Sally to learn about it and understand it. I was only satisfied when I found out that my name has not only a Hebrew root, an Irish root, is used as a verb in English and has meaning in Arabic.

I was first clued to the Arabic meaning when people starting singing a Abdel Halim song to me in which he says “Walla Mana Sally yali Saletouni”. I’ve never really heard the full song but was so happy to hear my name in Arabic song and find the Arabic root to my name. And so my name comes from the Arabic word sala which means one of two things depending on context and derivation: To forget (something I do really well) and the other means to entertain (something I sometimes do well).

Today when someone comments on my name being an English name I am quick to add that it is an Arabic name too and has a beautifully appropriate meaning for my personality!

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One of my favorite reads in the past few years is Amin Maalouf’s book On Identity entitled: In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. The book discusses how our identity is made up of multiple facets and “it is built up and changes throughout a person’s lifetime.” The book was a response to 9/11 and was trying to answer how murderous identities are born. But I won’t go into that now, you can read the book if want to learn more. But the question begs itself, Who am I?

The idea that we relate to many identities and react to the various criticisms or praises to a part of our identity and it comes to the forefront was fascinating and understandable. It made sense that when a part of you is under attack, misrepresented, misinterpreted then you want to change that and you react or act. But I’ve never really took an in depth look into who I am from that sense. I always introduced myself within a context. Until now. So with out context and for the sake answer the question this is my Identity.

Two identities come to the forefront of my mind: I am an Arab, I am a woman. Both have been the strongest identifiers for me. The first comes from two places, assumptions people make about me, and pride. I am constantly told I look nothing like an Arab and so I am addressed as and treated as a foreigner in my own home. Here I constantly correct that assumption by asking “What does an Arab look like?” When someone speaks to me in English despite being spoken to in Arabic my response today is “Ana Ma fhimet, Ma ba7ki Englizy”. This translates into I am sorry I don’t understand, I don’t speak English. Yes I know this piece is in English and I’m always using English ,I will explain that in another post.

I am proud of being an Arab, I am proud of being Jordanian . This pride comes from constantly representing my culture, my heritage and explaining it to westerners. My first experience at being a cultural ambassador/ translator was a visit to America six years ago. The trip lasted about two months and it was such an eye opening experience. I never knew how Arab I was until I had to speak up about my country, my region, my language, my traditions, my society …etc. It is hard trying to break stereotypes and presenting a positive spin on years of negativity and misrepresentations. But it is so rewarding when you succeed in changing fear into understanding.

The other part of me is my womanhood. I love being a woman. I have struggled very hard in a man’s world to be. I grew up amongst three brothers, in a misogynistic home with gender stereotypes constantly being reinforced in the simplest of daily chores and activities. I worked in male dominated fields early on in my career, in which I had to be tough and masculine in my attitudes. I walked in streets where I am made conscious of my status as a female, made sexual with a look, a comment, and sometimes even a touch. My early conditioning was to accept apologetically this placement in life. To accept that men will always be superior. Ha ha ha… yeah right. They are more than welcome to think that, but I will not apologize for being a woman, and I am not inferior. And if anyone has a problem with that I am more than happy to set them straight! I love being a woman and I enjoy my mind, my body, myself.

There are other parts of my identity that I used to relate to strongly but not anymore. I think that I have grown enough that I no longer need to validate those parts of me by making them important and constantly wearing them on my sleeve. Not that I need to validate being an Arab woman. But I am secure enough to know that I don’t need to showcase all my facets. It also makes for interesting discoveries of oneself by others.