“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” –Wiliam Shakespeare
Although Romeo and Juliet is one of my favorite plays and I attribute a lot of meaning to this quote, I am hereby challenging Shakespeare. My name is Aisha Jasmine Elmasri, and I don’t think I would be me if I didn’t have this name.
I am going to perform a critical discourse analysis on myself and the implications of my name. Norman Fairclough, author of Language and Power, would be so proud.
I tend to introduce myself using my full name because I really love the way it sounds together, and also, because I have an odd obsession with Princess Jasmine. I realize now that I love this Disney princess because of my middle name, and the fact that she is Arab like me. I was conditioned to like her. It is all a gigantic societal ploy.
We attribute meaning to words. Every word is connected to an ideology that is reflected within the discourse of the subject. I think my mother named me Aisha with an expectation of the type of person she wanted me to become. These expectations are based on her ideology of the name Aisha. My name has shaped my familial discourse surrounding me, and can thus be related to Fairclough’s framework for discourse analysis.
Aisha is of Arabic origin and can be defined as “alive and well.” I was named after my paternal Lebanese grandmother. My mother chose Aisha because she loves and admires my grandmother, and thus associates this name with a woman she highly respects. My father chose my middle name, Jasmine, because he perceives it as beautiful and feminine. This name thus relates to the experiential value of words—it is a “cue to the way in which the text producer’s experience of the natural or social world is represented” (Fairclough, 92). My mother had also recently converted to Islam before my birth; Aisha is the name of Prophet Muhammad’s wife. She was a pious and accomplished woman who is highly respected in the Muslim faith. My mother associated this name with these qualities because of her newfound knowledge and beliefs. She gave me this name with hopes that I would embody these characteristics. My father is also very religious.
Aisha also maintains a relational value for my mother because it literally embodies a “social relationship” (Fairclough, 93). My father always says that my mother named me Aisha because she wanted to kiss-up to my grandmother. Although this is more of a testament to my dad’s twisted sense of humor, it is true that my mother would not have named me Aisha if it were not already my grandmother’s name. The name has emotional significance.
The experiential and relational value of Aisha directly relates to its expressive value within my life. This name caused me to be “constituted as [a] subject” and has greatly affected my social identity (Purvis and Hunt, 482). I am the oldest daughter in my household and have been constantly compared to my grandmother my entire life. She is a homemaker and prides herself on being a mother. She is loud and opinionated and constantly makes her presence known. Even beyond character traits, both my immediate and extended family constantly say that I even resemble my grandmother. My mom says I’ve always resembled my grandmother. But its impossible for my mom to have thought this when I was born—no one can tell what a newborn baby will grow to look like. Everyone expects me to be like my grandmother because of my name. My dad tells me constantly that I “walk exactly like [my] grandmother.” I can’t remember my grandmother ever walking without a limp or a cane in my lifetime… Yet, this expectation caused me to want to be like my grandmother. I convinced myself growing up that I was like her and that I did indeed look like her.
I only began questioning the validity behind this comparison after reading Fairclough. Some similarities between my grandmother and me are uncanny, but there is such a huge generational and cultural gap that is prevalent in our differing personalities. My grandmother was raised in a small village in Northern Lebanon. She was married to her cousin at age 18 and gave birth to her first child at 19. She devotes her life to housework and cooking. This is all she knows. Although she values education, she still constantly asks me when I will be getting married. It is evident that she still thinks I need to learn domestic duties. No matter how educated I may become, I am always reminded that one day I will have to care for a household.
These domestication reminders were not subtle, and they began early. My grandmother came from Lebanon to live with my family for a few years when I was 8 years old. I distinctly remember how furious she would get with me for demanding that my brothers be given household chores as well. A boy doing housework was a foreign concept to her. My sister would obediently finish her chores, and I would argue until my voice grew hoarse, and then finish my tasks. My dad used to manipulate me by saying that my grandmother was getting upset with me for arguing. So I would get to work. I wanted to make my grandmother proud. I subconsciously wanted to live up to my name.
Even on my most recent visit to Lebanon in the summer of 2012, my grandmother wanted me involved in the kitchen. She would tell my male cousins to give me their dinner plates for me to wash. This type of behavior always infuriated me. I became visibly irritated and complained in English to my cousins since my grandmother would not understand. But I still followed her directions out of respect. Little did I know, I gave my grandmother power over me through manufactured consent.
Yet despite all of my bad Arab-female behavior, I am still my grandmother’s favorite grandchild. On my 15th birthday, my grandmother chose to give me her solid 24k gold wedding band that is worth thousands of dollars. My grandmother has over 17 grandchildren, and even more great-grandchildren. Nonetheless, I am her favorite grandchild because of my name. She thinks I am so much like her. She favors me over my sister, even though I was a stubborn little girl who constantly fought my family on doing household duties while my sister obediently performed her tasks. My grandmother still views my personality as a reflection of her own.
It’s because of my name. It’s because of Aisha.
Aisha caused my own interpellation. I was “situated and placed within [this] specific discursive context” (Purvis and Hunt, 483). Aisha formed my own personal ideology. Although I despise the expectations as a female in my Arab family, I still do household duties. My ideology constitutes me as a subject. No matter how much I mentally fight it, I still subconsciously accept the female subjection in my household. I internalized the ideology of Aisha. I am accustomed to the role of being a female. I worked with my grandmother in the kitchen when I was in Lebanon last summer. Every time I visit home today, I begrudgingly do housework because it pleases both of my parents. They expect it of me.
I was interpellated in and through this ideology associated with Aisha. It has psychologically affected me. I accepted the comparisons with my grandmother. I have taken on the responsibility to both educate myself and learn the endless amounts of family recipes that were taught to my mother. I must be both a phenomenal cook and an academic. My grandma Aisha values these attributes in a “contemporary woman.” So I, Aisha, value them as well.
It is my duty as an Aisha to embody these diverse skills.
The expectations are all in the name.
Take that, Shakespeare.