VOICES: Say my name right, please

Photo by Harleen Sidhu.

My name is four letters and two syllables long. By all means, it’s not difficult to pronounce. There are only so many ways you could say it. Yet in my 22 years of life, I have heard every single possible variation of it. From Na-da to Niy-da to Na-dia, my four-letter name has confused more people than I could ever count.

When I was a kid growing up in Saudi Arabia, it was a constant battle between Nadia or Nada because those were both common Arabic female names. Heck – I’ve even been called Nidaal, an Arabic male name, at various points in my youth. It also didn’t help that my mom had given me a bowl cut at the time.

Somewhere along the line I moved to Canada and an exasperated elementary teacher gave up on trying to pronounce my name and we settled on ‘Needa.’ Was that much better? I’m not sure. Trust me when I say that I’ve heard my fair share of ‘Need-a-life’ jokes.

Now where, you may ask, does one get Needa from Nidh-a?

It wasn’t a question of not learning to stand up for myself and fighting for my name. It was simply a question I was tired of answering.

I’m tired of having to correct everyone I meet and giving them the ‘No-it’s-Nida-not-Niyda’ spiel. I mean, there are only so many times you can politely correct someone without getting frustrated with them for their inability to pronounce four letters.

“Neigh-da, right? Nice to meet you.”

“Its Nidh-a.”

“Nidea, right, I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s Nidh-ah.”


“Yup. You got it.”

This is definitely not a conversation only I have experienced. Ask any second-generation immigrant kid and they’ll have at least 10 stories about a substitute teacher butchering their name.

And I know I don’t have it bad. The Tsuyoshis and Laxminarayana of the world have it way worse than me. Seriously, I sympathize with you guys and I’m sorry for everything you’ve ever gone through.

People of colour who have ethnic-sounding names definitely have it a lot harder when it comes to getting people to pronounce their name correctly. In fact, a lot of people just opt to have a white nickname to make things easier.

Mohammad becomes Moe, Jaspreet becomes Jas and so on. While there’s nothing wrong with choosing to go by a short version of your name, it’s another thing to have that decision made for you by someone who can’t be bothered to learn it in the first place.

On the other hand, it’s also reasonable for people who are non-native speakers to have difficulty pronouncing names in a different language. There are obviously phonetic and linguistic differences when it comes to pronouncing names..

I am in no way suggesting that everyone should be able to say my name the way it’s meant to be said in Arabic. However, making the effort to ask me how it’s meant to be pronounced makes a big difference.

Pressing the tip of the tongue against the hard palate behind the front teeth produces the Arabic letter “Dal”. (Flickr/Internet Archive Book).

So, I’ve decided to make it easier for all of you non-native Arabic or Urdu speakers out there. I know how difficult it is for you to say my name, despite your ability to pronounce names like Joaquin and Yvonne, but that’s OK.

Here’s a guide to pronouncing my name:

Now the ‘Ni’ part is fine. It’s the ‘da’ part where people usually have the most trouble.

The letter ‘D’ in my name comes from the letter ‘Dal’ in Arabic and it sounds somewhat like the letter ‘D’ in English, except it’s much softer.

So, pronounce ‘D’ and check where your tongue hits the top of your mouth. Now instead of hitting it there, hit your tongue closer to your front teeth.

Put that together and you’ll get Nidh-ah.

If you’ve managed to make it this far, congratulations – you’ve mastered the art of saying a name that thousands of people on the subcontinent of South Asia (probably) share.

If you’re still stuck, however, I suggest watching and learning through instructional videos available online.

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