“ALHAMDULILAH, by the greatest blessings of God, we are overjoyed to announce the birth of our beloved new baby son, Aidan.”
I sincerely celebrated the good news, deferred to social media etiquette and clicked “like” on my friend’s post. Another new Muslim baby Aidan had entered the world.
He joins lots of little Aidans, Rayans and Adams, Sarahs, Laylas and Sophias smiling and drooling their way through my Facebook feed. Not popping up as much? Bouncing baby Muhammads.
The logic goes that “Rayan” can blend in as a moderate “Ryan,” “Aidan” is cool, mysterious and thus inherently likable; and “Adam,” inspired by the prophet, is sturdy, safe and reliable like George, William and Oprah. And who doesn’t like a plain and tall “Sarah,” an exotic “Layla,” who even got Eric Clapton on his knees?
The process of choosing a name for a tiny human being is a tremendous, anxiety-inducing responsibility that can lead to marital spats, desperate crowdsourcing and late-night prayers for divine inspiration.
For Muslim parents, it carries a much heavier burden.
“Should we give our baby a less Muslim-y name?” I asked my wife after we did an awkward, late-night celebration dance upon seeing the “+” sign appear on the pregnancy test over a year and a half ago.
It wasn’t crazy to be entertaining the question. Why burden your kid with a profile-worthy name in addition to the problems he will likely inherit because of his skin color, ethnicity and religion?
In 1980, I think my immigrant parents were more concerned about saving money to buy halal meat and removing turmeric from under their fingernails than the social consequences of naming their only child “Wajahat.”
It’s a trisyllabic name with Arabic roots that means “esteemed,” and is used by certain Pakistani parents who want to guarantee that their American-born Muslim child experiences childhood mockery.
“Whatchamacallit?” “Waja-the-Hut” and “Warbalot” are my all-time favorite mispronunciations over the past 34 years.
Excerpted from an article by Wajahat Ali. Originally published at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/04/opinion/sunday/for-muslim-americans-baby-aidan-or-baby-muhammad.html.