Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Rabia: The Story Behind the Name

According to my sources, today is "Name Yourself Day."  Most everything I read mentions that today is a day you can change your name if you don't like the one your parents gave you.  I can see that if you have the same name as everyone else around you, but that is obviously not a problem I have.  I've only met one other Rabia in my whole life and she was an Afghan refugee I met through a school I worked at.  We didn't have a whole lot of conversations because I don't speak Farsi and she didn't speak English. 

I'll start with the obvious: How to pronounce my name.  I have heard lots of different pronunciations over the years.  I've been called Robyn, Robbie and Rabies(haha, I've never heard that one before!!).  My neighbor of ten years still calls me Robie (with a long "O" sound).  (*Side note: In high school my best friend's name was Robyn.  At one point she was dating a boy named Robbie.  My poor boyfriend had the darndest time trying to talk to the three of us when we were all together!!) Anyway! The pronunciation: RAW (like uncooked) bee (buzz buzz) uh (uh...).  Put it together RAW-bee-uh. 

The funny thing about telling people how to pronounce my name is that they then want to change the spelling. I can't tell you how many times I've spelled my name for someone and then pronounced it only to have them say, "I'm going to put 'Robia" over here on the side so I can remember how to say it." Inevitably, the next time I talk to them, they call me Robia (long "O" sound again). 

I lived with people mis-pronouncing my name and mis-spelling my name for a LONG time.  Even my own brother used to spell it wrong all the time.  I'm used to it.  Learning to gently correct people has been a great lesson in assertiveness.  Having a unique name has also been a great conversation starter when I meet new people. The story I tell is actually kind of funny.

I have an Arabic first name and a German last name, but I am neither Arabic nor German.  Technically I am Native American on my mom's side from an Alaskan tribe.  My parents met where all girls from Alaska and boys from Iowa meet: Afghanistan!  They were both in the Peace Corps. My mom was a nursing teacher, teaching young Afghan women how to care for themselves and each other. My dad taught English.  The story goes that with each new group of volunteers the current volunteers would go out to meet the planes. Apparently the pilots always let the prettiest girls sit up front in the co-pilot's seat.  That's where my dad first saw my mom. (That's the way he tells it anyway!)

My parents got married, had a kid (my brother John), moved around a bunch and 9 years later had me.  My mom named me Rabia after one of her former students in Afghanistan.  As I've heard it, the choices were between Rabia and Nadia. Before I was born, my older brother used to go around the house chanting "Naughty Nadia! Naughty Nadia!"  And that's how I ended up as a Rabia. Thanks John!

When I was in Sunday school growing up, there was always a class about Saints.  The teachers would always talk about which Saints the students were named after.  My dad taught me to explain that I was named after a Sufi Saint. That didn't always go over well. 

Also, if you ask my dad who I am named after, he will tell you that I am named after Christopher Columbus.  Actually all of us are named after Christopher Columbus.  Mainly because Christopher Columbus was named in 1451 and the rest of us were name sometime after that.  (I get my sense of humor from my dad, can you tell?)

I like my name.  I've never had to use my last initial. I've never heard people ask "Which Rabia?"  I can weed out telephone solicitors like nobody's business!! "Umm...Hello. May I speak with Rah-ray-robe...Mrs. Lie-ber?"  "Sorry, no one here by that name!"  It gives me a great story to start conversations with when I meet new people. 

Do you like your name? Would you change it if you had the chance?  Or do you go by a nickname?


  1. I used to want to change my name - I didn't think Kim was very interesting. But now I am content with it. (I can't think of another name that would suit me, anyway!) Love the story of your name. I think it is so interesting to hear how people decide upon a name for a child. :)

  2. What a fun post! :) And, I'm glad to know that I've been pronouncing your name correctly in my head.

    When I was little, I used to think Ami was a perfectly fine name for a kid, but not a grown-up name. Perhaps because there are SO many who are my age? Anyway, I have always liked that I have an easy name to say, but with a unique spelling. Yet, I hated being called "Amy... with an i." One interesting tidbit - before I was married, my initials were AMY. My maiden name is a long, Italian name that was "butchered" when my family came from Italy - in Italy, it starts with an I. :)

    1. That's awesome! Before I got married, my initials were RAB which were the first three letters of my name. Incidentally, the initials of the locket-stealer in Harry Potter, so that was kinda of exciting too!

  3. My name is Kristia. Kris-tia. It's a variation of a common name, but it always stumps people. I've never met another one, but a friend named their daughter after my name.

    I like my name and I don't like to be called anything but Kristia.

    1. I keep trying to get someone to name a kid after me, but it hasn't happened yet!! :)

  4. Interesting post.

    I never minded my name though for awhile I wished it were Elizabeth. I became obsessed with that name as a kid. So that's why my daughter's name is Natalie Elizabeth ;)

    1. It's good that you got to use the name Elizabeth in some way. And a sweet story for your Natalie. :)

  5. Oh, I was pretty close. In my head I was pronouncing your name with an "a"pple instead of "a"we. I think it's so cool that you have a unique name! I always hated how common my name is though I do like it alright.

  6. I went by Tammy as a kid but as an adult, starting to go by Tamara was like having a brand new name. And I love it. My blog and photography business came about because of the sheer number of times I would tell people my name was, "Tamara..like camera..." and then they'd spell my name as "Tamera" and not its right "Tamara." Annoying. There are generally three pronunciations and I get them all a lot. Since I started my blog/business, it's actually been better!

  7. I was pronouncing your name right in my head!! Whoo Hoo!
    I love the story of your naming.
    I had to go by Lisa H. ALL THROUGH SCHOOL because there was always more than one Lisa. UGH.
    I'd still never change it. Too much trouble and I don't know if I'd answer to anything else.
    My middle name is Michele so that's not much better, unique wise.

    I always wanted to have a name that had a professional sound if you were working and some good nickname if you weren't...like...Elizabeth for work but you could be Liz or Betsy, or Libby. Or Katherine could also be Katie or Kate.

    Oh, well. --regular old Lisa

  8. Your name is awesome and I too have a very unique name and thought I need to share this with her.

    My legal name is actually Keska. Middle name Haririn. Put it together with my maiden last name and it reads out of a what-the-heck-is-that-i'm-looking-at book. It's Keska Haririn George. I struggled with this name for years. I never used my middle name - only used the initial H. and never EVER told anyone what it stood for. I was often referred to as George by my professors who didn't feel a need to address me correctly until one day in English class i got the nerve to tell one of them off.

    The conversation went like this:

    English Prof: George, can you read the next two paragraphs?
    Me: Can I ask you a question?
    English: Sure. Absolutely.
    Me: Can you tell me how we are listed on your roster? First name, last name etc?
    English: You're listed as first Name, last name.
    Me: So where it says first name for me, what does it read?
    English: Keska (struggles to pronounce it)
    Me: Ok. so it is listed there? How interesting and yet you choose to use my last name to refer to me...(sarcasm of course)
    English: well, uh (stutters at this point)...well, I'm sorry Miss George..ah, Keska. Won't happen again.
    Me: Thanks. I'd appreciate it not to.

    Bad ass right??
    But, a year ago, I decided to change my name as an adult not because I don't completely like Keska Which I do, but there were so many issues with it. I won't take up more of your feed, so I will just have you come over to my personal blog and read it. How's that for networking?



  9. It's awesome that you looked into the meaning of your name. My name has nothing to do with my ethnicity either.
    My name is Paulin which is a French name. One of Napoleon's sisters was named Paulin. I like my name but if I was to change it I would change it to one that reflects my ethnicity. I am of Assyrian descent. We speak a modern version of Aramaic, the language Christ spoke, so if I was to change my name I would change it to the Aramaic name: Adorina (A-Do-Ri-Nah) which means one who helps. It reflects my personality and ethnicity. I also like the way it rolls off the tongue :) But since I am not going to be changing my name anytime soon I just might save this name for my daughter.

    You can see more Assyrian names here: http://www.atour.com/~fred/docs/assyriannames.html

  10. So glad you directed me to your post - your name story is so interesting. It's funny that your brother's name is John - usually all the kids in one family have unique names or common names, but not both. I would have pronounced your name with a long a, but now I know better!

  11. I love the story behind your name. Turns out, I was named after Christopher Columbus, too! LOL I love how you took your unique name as a learning opportunity for assertiveness and as a conversation starter. I have a unique name and did a similar post to this but I still have yet to embrace it.

  12. Well I've been pronouncing your name wrong - like Rah instead of Raw. Got it now. ;-) Even though the pronunciation Keen-ya isn't wrong, I prefer just Ken-ya like Ken doll. The there are southern and northern pronunciations Kinya and Kanya but that doesn't bother me either. How neat that you met another Rabia even though you couldn't talk to her. I've met no more than 10 Kenya's in my lifetime. What was neat was that two of them were over Christmas break. I was in Starbucks of all places and the person had my name tatooed on her neck! She told me it was her daughters name.

  13. You are inspiring a video post here, Kenya. I don't hear any difference between Rah and Raw. Other people do. I'm just going to have to get on camera and pronounce it to settle things.

  14. Yep do a video because my rah and raw sound different ;-)


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