Monday, March 03, 2008


On the day of my birth, back in 1979, my parents eschewed traditional Pakistani and Muslim names and decided to call me Sabila*. The story goes that I was named after their Turkish friend, who also lived in the large expat community of Tripoli, Libya. The name is derived from a Koranic word--sabeel--which means "the righteous path," but also refers to holy water or a vessel that holds holy water. Sabeel is also said to be the name of a body of water in Heaven.

Needless to say, I love my name. Apart from the mysterious Turkish woman for whom I was named, I don't know a single person who's called Sabila and, between you and me, I'm a name snob and would like very much to keep it that way. As a child, I worked hard to ensure that none of my mother's friends named their newborns after me; I showered them with name recommendations, with the hope that if they were to have girls, my name wouldn't be on their already long list of lovely names from which to choose. I made sure that I was the only Sabila in a forest abundant with Fatimas, Sarahs, Aishas, Mariams, and Aminas and it remained that way for a very long time.

A couple of years ago, however, I received news that threatened to cut down the unique-but-unusual Sabila tree forever (or give her a sapling sidekick)! I heard from someone I knew that I mutual acquaintance of ours was pregnant with her third child and had declared that, if this third child was a girl, she wanted to name her Sabila. I veiled my panic with a smile, a "Really?! That's wonderful!" when all I really want to do was hyperventilate and plant cabbage seeds around my landscape. How could there possibly be another Sabila in my world? How? Oh, the humanity!

The very next day, I ran into the pregnant girl! Rushing past the formalities, I congratulated her on her pregnancy and asked, "So, do you know the baby's gender yet?"

"Oh, I'm having another boy!" she told me, a hand to her belly.

I put a hand to my own belly as my butterflies settled down!

"You know something, I was determined to call the baby Sabila if it was a girl!" she told me. "Now I have to start all over again and think of boy names! So difficult!!!"

"I know! Boys names are hard," I said, with measured relief. I approached the next question with the caution of a person, tiptoeing across a graveyard of landmines. "Sooooo......any plans for baby number 4??"

The girl laughed. "Oh, noooo! I'm done after this kid, sister," she said, pointing to her belly. "The baby factory's closed!"

"Three's a good number," I said, downright glowing with relief. "Zain's a nice boy's name..."

*a note to the people who still mispronounce my name: I hate to break it to you but, while I may be only a few days away from 29, my name isn't any closer to being Sa-bee-lee-ah, Sa-bee-ah, or Sa-bla. It's Sa-bee-la. SA-BEE-LA. I'm hoping that 29 will usher in a new era of me actually liking you and your efforts to correctly pronounce my beautiful name. Thanks!


Francesca said...

A body of water in heaven is a lovely image.

Moti Bhains said...

Did I ever mention the fact that my mom's khala's name is Sabila?

ps. I'm the silent reader from.. *ahem* Kansas.. Remember me? :(

nadia said...

I have an aunty Sabila somewhere, but chances are she's not in your general vicinity so your name is safe.

I've always thought 'Nadia' was nice and unremarkable (and easily pronounced) until I met a woman who insisted that that could simply NOT be my name if I was from Pakistan. She'd 'studied the area' you see, and Nadia was simply not a Pakistani name. She got all belligerent too, asking who'd named me (a passing band of white people who my parents felt impelled to honor by letting them name their firstborn child, perhaps? You never know with us exotic types.). Oh and when I pointed out that in addition to its Russian origin, which is what she had a problem with apparently (and what do you think South Asia is south OF?), it is also an Arabic and a Swahili name, she says yes but then you should spell it like the Arabic name (with a y or something). Yeah because, silly me, I've been writing it in cyrillic all this time.
So yeah, at least Sabila's nice and unusual enough to sound, well, unusual.

Sasha said...

i used to be the only Sasha in there are 3...


francesca said...

LOL on "what do you think South Asia is south OF?"