Finding the strength in an allegedly weak name

How I reclaimed the meaning behind my first name

Various pictures of Hareer throughout her life.
Photo: 

Our parents’ names for us can be reminders of what they hope we become.

My family gave me various nicknames but the weakness associated with my birth name hung over me until I learned to understand its true meaning.

To my grandfather I was Assal (honey); to my mother I was Sumaya (highest point) and to my father I was Hareer (silk)— which was the only name that stuck. Rumor has it my father got the name when I wrapped my hands around him as an infant, reminding him of the soft embrace of silk. 

My whole life, I’ve heard the phrase “Hareer zay il Hareer”, which is Arabic for “silk is just like silk.” When you’re Arab, it’s not peculiar to have such a name. It’s a reminder of the value of silk and the great efforts required to own it. 

Silk is delicate, difficult to deal with and easily damaged if mishandled. Overtime, it became hard to keep the positive meaning behind Hareer—its beauty and uniqueness—when it was turning into a liability. 

As much as I hated it, I am everything that name embodies: sensitive, soft and lightweight. In my mind, all these qualities made me weak so I resented where they came from—my name, Hareer. 

I never connected my identity to my name because I didn’t want to be labeled as sensitive. However, my perspective started to shift when I was sixteen in a parent-teacher conference at school. 

The first thing the teacher said was, “Hareer zay il Hareer, you are very sensitive. Habibti. You need be stronger.” 

Even though I’d heard this phrase used to describe me before, I began blushing. I’d never heard it used in such a blunt manner, especially coming from a teacher and to my parents. 

Throughout the meeting, my teacher didn’t mention my love for Arabic literature, my interests in AP courses, my participation in co-curriculars, my good relationship with my teachers or any of my academic achievements. The meeting revolved around her concern for me as a sixteen year old girl who was too shy to raise her hand in class, too emotional in her writing and too afraid to speak up when necessary. 

She went on to criticize my shyness, the softness of my voice and how I looked “breakable”. I started to lose focus on her words out of the humiliation. But what stood out the most was her description of me as “too weak to face challenges,” which she said was “not a good thing for college.” 

After that, I didn’t know if what I was feeling was shame or pure distress. 

For the most part, it wasn’t my teacher’s words that made me uncomfortable, but rather the condescending way she spoke. To her, I was too delicate to handle any frank criticism.  

I realized my vulnerability was visible to everyone. I felt violated, weak, and completely naked all at the same time. I blamed everything I didn’t like about myself on my name because I didn’t have the strength to blame anything else.  

After the conference, I remember leaving my parents to go to the student centre to grab our coats. But instead, I found myself in a bathroom stall. My heart started racing, my hands were numb and my head was spinning. I found it hard to stand upright.

As tears rolled down my cheeks, I struggled to control my breathing. That moment reinforced my worry that everything my teacher said was true. 

I was so easily broken. I was so gullible to think I could be someone other than Hareer, the girl fated to always remain weak. 

What was supposedly a gift of a name began to feel like a burden. What used to be a beautiful and valuable reminder to the world of who I was started to feel like an anchor. 

I couldn’t excel because I was Hareer. I couldn’t speak out because my voice was like Hareer. I couldn’t stand my guard because I was lightweight like Hareer.  Everything I wanted to be or achieve seemed like an unachievable dream, because I was Hareer. 

My name was the biggest weight I had to carry. 

As the burden of my name grew, so did my curiosity as to why my father gave me this cursed. When I was 18, my dad and I were watching The Avengers in our living room. In the middle of the movie, I abruptly asked my dad why he named me Hareer. What reminded him of that name when he saw me? 

“You were named after two things,” he said. “Hareer referred to an old silk route—the main and the only channel for trade. At the time, Asia was represented by India and was the source of the most valuable trading materials—items like spice and silk. It was precious, just like you.” 

“The second link was related to the valleys in northern Iraq. The series of mountains there were called Hareer. They signified strength in beauty. Your name—and all that it stands for—are revered for its quality, transparency and value. You are all of that.”

Up until that point, I’d completely forgotten the origin of the word Hareer and the value it holds. Instead, I’d let my name’s meaning be hijacked and scrutinized by my own self-doubt.

For the longest time, I believed vulnerability should be hidden, sensitivity was a weakness and shyness was anything but a virtue. I looked at myself the way the world looked at me. I forgot to look beyond the definition others imposed on my name and see the worth in it.

To this day, people often say, “Hareer zay il Hareer” to me upon hearing my name and I’ve learned to take pride in that. Silk has a value that I will always cherish. It made me realize there is no shame in being vulnerable because it enables the sensitivity and compassion needed to care deeply for others. 

For so long I abused my name, and sometimes I still do, but I will never forget the value behind it. I’ll strive to not let my name fully consume or define me, but instead serve as a reminder of my worth.

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