What's in a name?


My name is Jamal Ashley. These are my given names. When I was in grade school and high school, I knew or heard of no one who had the name Jamal except for Sultan Jamal ul-Kiram of Sulu. But the Sultan’s name was usually pronounced as Jamalul not Jamal ul-Kiram.

Jamal is pronounced with the accent on the second syllable. It is the Arabic word for beauty. If the accent is on the first syllable, it means camel. My father gave me that name.

My brother Nazir used to tease me by calling me Camel, since he insisted that my name meant camel and not beauty. In turn, I called him the bottom or the pits but he insisted that his name was Nazir with a Z and not nadir with a D.

He stopped insisting that my name meant Camel when our mother said the Camel symbolized strength, patience and perseverance — qualities that helped camels survive the harsh conditions of deserts.

I hated it when my classmates, teachers or even relatives pronounced my name as HAMAL. Many Tagalogs thought that J was pronounced as H as in Jaime or Juan. Many Mranaos pronounced it as DI-A-MAL.

In the mid to late 70s, Filipinos who had heard of the jazz musician Ahmad Jamal were the only ones who knew how to pronounce my name correctly.

In the 80s, I was thankful to the Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Jamaal Wilkes. To make sure that Americans would pronounce his name correctly, he spelled his name with a double A to indicate that the accent was on the second syllable. Because of him, many Filipinos knew how to pronounce my name correctly.

By the 90s, there was an explosion of Jamals in Hollywood whether the name of movie or TV actors or name of characters in TV and films.

Now, most of the Jamals I see on TV or movies are Blacks.

My second name is Ashley.

My mother named me after Ashley Wilkes, the character played by Leslie Howard in Gone With The Wind. (Jamal Wilkes, Ashley Wilkes. I must have a karmic connection with the name Wilkes, too.)

I was thankful that she didn’t name me Leslie, which in the Philippines and in the US, was a girl’s name.

Before, many Filipinos pronounced my name as ASH-LAY (as in No Way). Now, Filipinos know how to pronounce my second name correctly; but, most of them think it’s a girl’s name.

For some reasons, sometime in the 90s, there was an explosion of Ashleys in Hollywood — on TV or films. And most of them were girls — mostly Caucasian teenage girls!

I used to love my given names. They were exotic and uncommon. One is very Arabic while the other is very English. But now, they are quite common. One is a common name for American black guys while the other is a common name for American white girls.

In Britain’s Got to Dance Show, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that one of the judges’ name was Ashley (Banjo). He is British, black and male.

So, what’s in a name?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s