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Washington, DC – Introductions have never been my strongest suit. After sixteen years of suffering through mispronunciations, I’ve resigned myself to the realization that I will always be on the cusp of waiting for someone to say my name wrong. Waiting for the slurred R that doesn’t belong anywhere near it. Waiting for the soft “th” – as though any part of a name that my mother gave me would be soft. Waiting for the mangled mess of a word that will exit someone’s mouth that I will, undoubtedly, respond to.

I was seven years old when I first decided to change my name. I convinced myself it was for efficiency’s sake, to make it easier for people to remember me. Every year after that, I twisted my name up into some mutilation of itself so it would fit in the mouths of everyone I met. My name turned into a veritable menu – “Which would you prefer, sir?” A teacher once called me “K” for a year. I stopped raising my hand in class soon after; too scared to face the possibility of another fractured syllable.

My mother raised me on lullabies about voices like poetry, about words spoken like music, about women whose sentences formed like lotus petals. I took it all with a grain of salt – how could I not, when no one I met could manage two syllables? My father, however, raised me on endless platitudes. He told me that telling a lie was like trying to hold a butterfly in your mouth; no matter what I thought, I wouldn’t be able to hide the truth forever.

For a while, there was nothing I loved more than the pure confusion I would see on someone’s face after I said my name. In my mind, the cruelest joke I could play on someone was telling them who I was. It took a while for me to realize that I was the punchline.

Every now and then, I meet a girl with a name too wrong in her mouth to be the real one. I bend down close and ask her what it really is, and she always tells me – the butterfly has always been aching to be let out. I tell her what no one ever told me at seven years old, my name teetering on its existence. I tell her to remember that her name is not an ornament – it is a punch in the gut. I tell her to remember that in every piece of folklore, names are power. Names are commands, names are titles, names can bless and names can curse.

I tell her not to twist names to fit tongues – I tell her to twist tongues to fit her name, because her name is power and so is she.

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