Who da man
Disadvantages of having an Iranian name in America
March 7, 2006
When I was born in Abadan, southwestern Iran. My parents proudly named me Houman. They picked this beautiful name out of thousands and I will always be thankful that my name is not something more complicated. My cousin Farbod after being tormented for years in elementary school changed his name to Peter so he didn't have to deal with spelling and pronunciation of it.
But in 1973 Iran, my parents never imagined that in the future they would immigrate to the United States. Or my dad who is named Mohammad would have come up with a cool nick name back then. Calling himself Mo or Mike just to get the traction going; I could just see him pulling into the driveway of NIOC and asking the guard to call him Mo from now on.
What is wrong with the name Houman? Absolutely nothing. It means friendly (according to some) and I can't be happier with that meaning. Certainly beats having my name mean the avenger or blood thirsty killer or even worse - a man with no sense of humor. Yes, humor, understanding and tolerance are the three important part of having an Iranian name in America and anywhere outside of Iran.
So what could possibly go wrong with the name Houman? In the first place the main issue is how do you spell it? Houman or Hooman? And what difference could a 'u' instead of an 'o' make? I'll tell you. In California where I reside there is a large population of Asian community. Suddenly Houman is pronounced Howman. Not by just Asians themselves but by all races since they didn't want to offend anyone.
Next issue arose when some stoner decided to create a cartoon character and name it "He-Man". I tried to ignore this meddlesome character but his popularity rose to great levels. My lowest moment may have been on a family vacation to Switzerland to visit my mom's family. My mom's cousin had a friend who had three children in my age group.
After weeks of only playing with my brother; he and I were both ecstatic to have new playmates. Unfortunately they did not speak Farsi and my German was limited to "Akhton" which I had heard from various WWII movies. So their parents decided to help us form a relationship and introduced me as Houman. The next thing I knew these three bratty kids started running in a circle around me yelling "He-Man; He-Man" and laughing. They said some stuff in German however I was in no mood to find out what they said.
Yes that overly muscled comic He-Man who battles Skeletor caused me quite a bit of grief and it continued during my Jr. High years of attendance in San Jose. I did hear it all. Where is my sword they would ask or you let Skeletor get away again or where is my little companion. I didn't think it could get worse. But it did.
They came out with the character She-Ra. Then all the incest jokes began. Luckily majority of my 8th grade was spent in ESL where other students had funnier names. Of course coming from Iran I had to stick with my fellow Iranian friends. And roll call was the best part for us. We had several female students named Anne. They got us into a lot of trouble.
My next set of problems occurred when it became cool to talk like a rapper. Suddenly all these middle class white kids thought themselves very clever if they use the slang of the rappers. My name became one of the first casualties. Houman became -- Who da man. Or for the slightly less clever kids -- Who's the man. And then my "special" classmates who could not calculate 2+2 without the use of a calculator transformed my name to "Human being". Luckily they were transferred to the slow class and I didn't have to deal with them. Unfortunately some of teachers thought this was funny and they would mimic their students.
The last straw was when a coworker of mine named Carolyn complained that most people mispronounce her name as Caroline. I am not sure if it was my look of disgust or the uncontrollable laugh that alerted her that I would not be the best person to complain to. At this stage of my life I had lowered my standards to answer anything remotely to Houman, Howman, Homan (Pronounce it is Hoeman) or my favorite; a moment of silence then looking up from list of names and looking for the ethnic looking person who could fit that name.
You think I had a tough time with my first name? Let me tell you that having a last name of Jazaeri is no picnic either. Especially since Al-Jazeera became a known name in the United States as a news channel.
To all my fellow Iranians living abroad, I feel your pain.