The revival of Moideen

Cal in Color

photo of columnist Moideen Moidunny

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Here’s a quick overview of my resume: promotional model, actor, movie extra, stunt double, yoga instructor, exotic dancer, mascot (Grover from “Sesame Street”), emcee, janitor or sanitation engineer, cook (at KFC), waiter, clerk (at 7-Eleven), electrician apprentice, librarian and student. 

And on each of those resumes I submitted, to all of the people I met working those jobs all the way into my second year at UC Berkeley, I chopped off the “Moi” in my name and bore the shorter one of “Deen.” When I worked as a promotional representative for Jaguar (Land Rover,) my job consisted of brief interactions with people across America. It was infinitely easier to be “Deen,” especially if I was in Ohio or Texas. 

“What’s your name, son?”

“I’m Deen.”

“Dean!? Like James Dean? Why, that’s my grandpappy’s name! Darn good meetin’ ya, Dean!”

I loved that instant connection I was able to have with people. I craved it, the seamless assimilation into the culture of the country that my parents had immigrated to. The “Moi” didn’t necessarily prevent that from happening, but it did make it more difficult. 

When I transferred to UC Berkeley and chose to rush fraternities — a process akin to bromantic speed dating — “Deen” once again triumphed. There I was, going by a name that while comforting to everyone else offered me no comfort, instead cementing an identity founded upon cultural insecurity and a subconscious inclination to appease Americans. 

My transformation into “Deen” was undoubtedly a type of reluctant assimilation to Western ideals, predicated on the abdication of cultural authenticity. As “Deen,” I no longer had to be the ambassador for my name’s origin. I could just be an “American,” freed from the shackles of my name’s uniqueness in this country.

My name is Moideen. It rhymes with soybean, if that helps.

My name has a rather remarkable meaning. “Moideen” originally comes from Arabic, and has been Indianized from “Muhiy-al-Deen” (you have to get uvular for the “Muh”). When bisected, “Muhiy” means “reviver” and “al-Deen” means “of the faith” (the faith being Islam). Ironically, I haven’t exactly been dutiful in honoring my name’s designation. Also ironic is that in my attempt to have my name be more palatable to American tongues by shortening it to “Deen,” it inadvertently resulted in my name literally meaning “faith.”

Perhaps more cringe-worthy was my nickname in the eighth grade, when my cultural identity crises crescendoed and I decided to go by “Mo.” Luckily, my time as “Mo” didn’t last long; I was already reeling from the trauma of my Indianness being associated with one character from “The Simpsons,” Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. No thank you, and I will not come again. So I couldn’t be “Mo” for long, but I sympathize with all the “Mohammeds” back home in Michigan who go by that name (love you guys).

The contentiousness of one’s name is the universal hallmark of bicultural people in America. I shied away for years from asking others to perform the awkward labor of pronouncing my name just for my own satisfaction. Hence my cheesy phonetic attempt to help people pronounce my name correctly: soybean.

I also didn’t like that my name acted as a tacit marriage to the cultural background it hails from. When I was an insecure, hormonal teenager, I hadn’t wielded the confidence to become the de facto delegate for Indian and Islamic culture to my American friends. Later in life, it seemed more practical to Americanize my name —  “Deen” fell so effortlessly off of everyone’s lips. I didn’t have to worry about others worrying about mangling the pronunciation of my name. It certainly didn’t help my insecurities when the iPhone came out, and my name was suddenly and constantly autocorrected to “moisten.”

Only after experiencing UC Berkeley students’ unreserved embracement of cultural diversity was I able to reflect on what shortening my name really meant to me. Students here are eager and willing to take the time and effort to say ethnically unique names correctly. The atmosphere of respect for differences here was exactly the catalyst I needed to revive my actual name — the name that my mom, my brothers and my closest friends all use, and the name I call upon when I’m in dialogue with myself.

I shouldn’t have to be shy about expecting others to have the patience and willingness to learn how to pronounce my name. If people can learn how to say Worcestershire, sea anemone and Mississippi, then they can take a few moments (or longer) to learn my name. 

Although I may not have fulfilled the intimidating expectation of being a “reviver of the faith,” I am fulfilling its meaning in my own way. By being sincere and genuine with who I am and where I come from, I have indeed revived the faith: my faith in my conviction as a proud bicultural person. At times, it has been bittersweet retiring my American alias. It was gratifying to feel a cultural identification with American people and their charming allusions to James Dean.

However, I am ultimately much happier presenting a self to the world that feels whole and uncompromising. Also, “Moideen Moidunny” sounds pretty dope.

Moideen Moidunny writes the Friday column on being a person of color at UC Berkeley. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.