The Name Is My Name
A name has different meanings in different cultures, and it reflects the society into which you were born. In my culture in Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, a woman’s name always comes from the beauty of nature. A man’s name is usually the name of a mountain, a place, or something strong and powerful. We believe that a name is an integral part of a person that accompanies them to their grave.
I was born with a name which is dear to me. The meaning of my name, Chro, is a bud or a small flower in the spring. I have always loved my name, and the image of myself it gives me; but it has been an influential part of my life in different cultures, for different reasons.
When I was five years old, my father was exiled from to southern Iraq for his beliefs, which he expressed in his career as a journalist and well-known Kurdish historical writer. Our family had to move to a part of Iraq whose official language is Arabic. For the first time, I registered for school… in an Arabic country, and I wasn’t able to speak a word of Arabic.
In the Arabic language, the sounds CH and O do not exist. As a result, my name was pronounced by Arab speakers as Jarw, which means nothing in Kurdish, and is the name of a wild ugly dog in Arabic. My name during that time became something I did not want to hear during school hours, whether the teachers or the students were saying it.
At the end of the school day, my father would pick me up from school and speak to me in Kurdish with affectionate gestures. My father’s voice relieved my anger from each sad day at school. I spent many years suffering because of the laughter about my name, both in school and outside of it - though I did not find it ugly when I saw it much later, as a byline to a short story I was proud to have written in an Arabic newspaper.
When I was a teenager, I fell in love with a pediatrician and he became my husband. As soon as I got married, my name, by custom, became Mrs. Saad, or “Doctor’s wife”. I didn’t feel able to recognize myself when people called me this; I was always correcting my name when people called me by that new name – my husband’s name. I did not want to be identified by my relationship to others. I also did not want to be called by one name at home, and another name in other places.
In my early twenties, when we were living in Baghdad, I gave birth to our first baby son. We named him Las. Arabic is the official language in Baghdad, and in the Arabic world, if the first baby in the family is a son, the mother is given the son’s name. So after my son’s birth, my name changed to “Las’s mother”.
I often searched for my own name during this time. I felt lost between different names, in different cultures and communities that did not belong to me.
Finally, when I was in my early thirties and had two children, my husband and I decided to separate. I was accepted as a refugee in Canada. There were three names on my original identity documents from Kurdistan. The first name is my name, the second name is my father’s name, and the third name is my grandfather’s name. But when I arrived in Canada, my third name - my grandfather’s name - was mistakenly assigned as my family name by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
In those days, when people call my home and say, “Is this Miss Mohamed?” I would always correct them, saying, “This is Chro speaking.” I liked having my name and my father’s name, but I did not have the option of removing my grandfather’s name at that point.
I never got used to it. I was told by CIC that I would have to wait four to five years to become a Canadian Citizen, and that I could apply for a name change then. The whole process cost me time and money before it was complete.
But now, I have a name… and the name is mine. My name is as important to me as another part of my body, my eyes and skin. I wanted to keep my name. Like my skin would have been, it was painful to remove.
Living in different cultures, marrying a man, giving birth to a baby boy, and moving to foreign country, all affected my name in different ways; but now, finally, the name Chro is mine once more.