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Giving Batul a chance
Changing one's name for practical purposes

November 10, 1998
The Iranian

Hamid's letter, "What do I do? I am Italian," brought a few smiles and a flood of memories. With a name like mine -- Guive Mirfendereski -- you can imagine how many times in a day I have to spell it all out or explain each name's origin. At times, when prudence or productivity dictates, Guive becomes an imaginative combination of Guy (after Guy de-somebody, the French writer) and Yves (after Yves Mon-somebody, the French matinee idol). Oh why couldn't my parents agree on either name?

Of course, Mirfendereski suddenly becomes Polish depending on the circumstances. In the summer of '86, I had decided that when calling people, particularly in the Washington bureaucracy, I would introduce my self as Guido Murphy. One day I called the undersecretary for-something-or-other at the Department of Commerce to discuss the import classification for Turkish broadleaf tobacco. When the receptionist asked my name, I triumphantly declared "Guido Murphy." "How do you spell Guido," she asked in ernest.

Nowadays, at times I use "Steve Mir" and only because Mir is short and Guive sounds on the telephone like Steve to an untrained ear.

The Westernization of one's name is a personal matter. No indictment is warranted. Parents who engage in the practice may do it for fantasy, which at time may turn into a cruel joke. A kid who grows up but never to the proportions of a Rustam. Marmar who looks as tanned as a crow, or Shaqayeq who looks nothing like a flower.

Some Western-oriented names are purposive; they reflect on a child's mixed heritage. A dear friend of mine is named Siamac, Mac for short; likewise there is nothing wrong with Sohrob being Robbie, Esfandiar being Essy, Jajanghir being Johnny, Soheila being Loli, Sanjar being Jerry, Sassan being Sonny, Elaheh being Eli, and the like. There is nothing wrong with the cultural versatility which this offers a child.

According to one friend, the changing of his name from Farhad, which was often confused with "forehead" of which he had a vast frontage, marked his professional success. He chose the name David! Others are not as far fetched. Some go from Behruz to Bruce, Fareed to Fred.

Business reasons aside, some change their names for social reasons. According to another friend -- this in 1979 -- his name change was necessitated by the requirements of dating and his very active social life. In frequenting the disco scene in Boston, he went from Ali to Alain and from being Iranian to being a Parisian. One night at a wedding reception, he spent the entire evening dodging the bride's friend from Paris; Alain did not speak a word of French!

Wishing to assimilate, integrate and possibly dissolve into the host culture begins in most cases with conforming one's name to the environment. After all, identity begins with a name. At New York's Ellis Island emigrants were given abbreviated names, usually Anglo names based on pronunciation or meaning of one's original name. This sped up the paperwork.

My own fond memory in this regard is from a party in Tehran back in 1967. A cousin had invited me to a party at her house. On furlough from boarding school, I spent a considerable number of hours at the party looking disinterested and fierce. Finally, I worked up the nerve to approach a girl in a tight blue satin dress.

"Betty," she introduced herself. "Must be West- mannered," I thought. To my ears, the name was fraught with possibilities, including one of easy virtue. A tentative slow dance later, as imagination had began to leave sweat beads in my palms, it all ended as abruptly as it had begun. The hostess called her from across the room: "Batul! Batul, your ride home is here!" "Who's Batul?," I queried from her ear.

The intent in changing one's name is not to fool people; as Hamid says, the accent is still there in its full glory! Also, looks too betray in their own way. All this, however, is about being able to communicate without having to account for or be interrupted or prejudiced by queries about national origin or to encumber others with a name which can hardly be pronounced by the lingoculturally-challenged sector of the population -- an intended, a customer, your boss.

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