My nickname is Iris. But it doesn’t sound like Iris.
The ‘r’ rolls so fast it sounds like a ‘d’ sometimes. Sometimes I tell them, the people who try harder than others to roll their ‘r’s’, to say it like the ice cream. Edy’s Ice Cream.
But I never understood that, because I always pronounced ‘Edy’s’ Ice Cream like ‘Eddie’s’ Ice Cream and people told me I was wrong and I would tell them “tomato, tomato” so then they would tell me they’ll just pronounce my name like someone who couldn’t roll their ‘r’s’ like the grandma who loves me and I would just stay quiet.
But Iris is not my name. Irisdelia is my name. But no, that’s not my name either.
I was named after my grandmother. There is no long winded story of what my name means or how my parents fought for a name that meant something. I was named after my grandmother, that was enough for Ma and enough for me.
I found throughout my time in high school that I was letting people pronounce my name wrong because I was tired. People didn’t want to learn the beauty of my name, the accent you had to have in order to pronounce it just right. I didn’t want to correct them, because I knew they didn’t want to learn.
“I’ll just call you Iris,” the sound of that hard ‘r’, the name of that purple flower that grows in bunches I think, that colorful part in your eye, the name of some Greek goddess that can travel by rainbows, I’ve gotten it all. I even had one teacher in 6th grade call me “Cornea” because he wanted to be witty but that was before I knew how to voice my discomfort.
But that’s not my name. My name was dumbed-down for others to understand, but I am not someone to be dumbed down for anyone’s understanding.
E-rees-dee-lee-a. I-rees-dee-lee-a. Er-ees-dee-lia. There is always something new most weeks, and once in a blue moon I get my name by a practiced tongue or from someone who wants to learn.
This is where Amherst comes in, and where my love for Amherst explodes on this computer screen.
Because people wanted to learn my name. The intricacies in the ‘r’ and the ‘d’ and how the ‘s’ sound is a little long. People here wanted to learn a culture and a language and an identity I’ve kept relatively tame and mostly hidden throughout my entire life. I can say my name right without the puzzled look, without the side glance of over-complicating a something that didn’t need to be complicated.
The moment I stepped on campus, I felt I was loved for who I was and who I always wanted to be. I am no longer the quiet Brown girl, I’m something more complex and more faceted than any name, and Amherst is gradually teaching me how to embrace that.
There is a persona I’ve kept hidden, all because of the mispronunciation of a name, all because I didn’t want to bother others. In turn, I hurt myself in that process. I now know to embrace the red squiggle the is under my name in every Word Document, or when friends here on campus have that starry-eyed look for the love of learning when I go through my journey with those nine letters.
Amherst is teaching me not only to accept myself and my culture, but to embrace them with open arms without having to rationalize or justify the way I pronounce my name.
People care here, people love that I care, and if anyone ever asks me “why Amherst,” I would just tell them that. Amherst cares about me, down to the way I roll my “r.”