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10 Awful Mispronunciations of Arabic Names

posted on: Feb 8, 2017

BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer

For Arab Americans touting Arabic names, their lives may have been a struggle. If you’re like me, saying your name to new people can be a real pain because it always stops them in their tracks.

Going to school as a kid, I always knew when the teacher got to my name on the classroom attendance list because he or she always paused, looked confused, then said: Niz-er-in? For some reason, my name Nisreen was always too difficult for teachers and classmates to say without several repetitions.

Now that I’m an adult, the struggle is still very, very real. When I meet people for the first time, they almost always assume I introduce myself as “Listerine”. Yes, people legitimately believe my parents named me after Listerine the mouthwash. After telling them no, my name is Nisreen, I then get a slew of other mispronunciations, such as “Mystery,” “Miss Green,” “Tangerine,” “Misery,” or “Nizer-een.”

Other Arab Americans can certainly relate to these funny mispronunciations of their names when meeting new people. Some Arab Americans may give up the fight and anglicize their names, but for those who are still sticking it out, we can laugh about those mispronunciations today. Here are 10 Arabic names that get butchered all the time.

1. Taisir/Tayseer – Taser

Meaning: to accomplish with ease

This is my father’s name so I feel his pain when people call him taser – as in the weapon used to shock and subdue criminals when they’re being arrested.

2. Anas – Anus or an-ASS

Meaning: friendliness

Everyone knows a man named Anas who has suffered from relentless teasing for his name, which unfortunately resembles the English word “anus” in sound.

3. Hanna – Hannah

Meaning: bliss

Many Arabs have Hanna (John in English) as a surname, which is an ancient biblical name worthy of respect! But many men are also given Hanna as a first name, prompting assumptions that he was given the girl’s name “Hannah”. This makes Johns everywhere sad.

4. Fadi – Fatty

Meaning: savior

Fadi is a very common name in the Arab American community and every person with the name has been called “fatty” because the words sound similar.

5. Yehya/Yahia – Ya Yaaaa!

Meaning: long live

Yehya (John the Baptist) stops a lot of people, even some Arabs. It’s not a common combination of letters, but also not an excuse to call out the chant of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

6. Maha – Mama or mah-hah

Meaning: antelope symbolizing beauty

At first glance, Maha looks like “mama” for some people who aren’t reading or listening too carefully, but that mispronunciation is far better than someone screaming “MAH-HAH” at you. Every Maha born after 1980 received this obnoxious greeting at some point from a friend who watched The Amanda Show.

7. Yasmeen/Yasmin – Jazmin

Meaning: Jasmine (like the flower)

This is another name that people get wrong simply because their eyes and ears have deceived them. That was a ‘y’ not a ‘j’ – pay attention, people! Just because Walt Disney once published an Arab stereotype named Jazmin, doesn’t mean all Yasmeens share her name.

8. Shadi – Shady

Meaning: one who sings

Poor Shadi. Everyone thinks he’s up to no good because his name reads like the English slang word “shady,” meaning suspicious or criminal. Or even worse, they make a Slim Shady aka Eminem joke to him. More often than not, Shadi is the farthest thing from a criminal and is not the real Slim Shady.

9. Salah or Salah Al-Din – Salad

Meaning: righteousness

No one wants to be called a salad. No one. But the ambitious Arab parents who name their children after Salah Al-Din ask for their kids to be called salad.

10. Kareem – Cream

Meaning: generous

Despite this name being rather famous, non-Arabic speakers still struggle to say the ‘a’ between the ‘k’ and ‘r’. The ‘a’ will have its revenge soon enough!