Saturday, August 11, 2012

What kind of name is Lilas?

I learned my real name the first day I set off to school at Hawalli Elementary in Kuwait city. I was a mere five year old, but I wished I were nine like my brother. First grade was my introduction to public education. I remember exactly what I wore that day: Soft blue pants and a matching sleeveless top patterned with scattered white clouds. Small and skinny with a short, rather boyish haircut, I ran to my father's car and plopped an empty school bag on my lap.

My father delivered me to the front office, placed his strong, comforting hands on my shoulders, and said, "You're a big girl now, Lulu."
He kissed my forehead, exchanged a few words with a lady behind a huge desk, and walked away. The lady took me by the hand, escorted me across a big square court and deposited me in one of the classrooms.
The heat hung in the humid air, typical of a late summer day. Four ceiling fans spun pathetically, pushing the warm breaths of thirty young girls around the room. Those days, only teachers' rooms had proper air conditioning.

The teacher pointed to an empty desk and ordered me to take a seat. She held a folder in her hand and instructed each of us to stand when we heard our names. And thus, the process began. I watched classmates respond to their names and made little stories in my head about each one while I patiently waited to hear mine. As the number of vacant chairs increased, I started to wonder when my turn would come. Maybe I didn't belong to this class, or maybe she'd call my name last because I was the last one to arrive, or maybe my name was not even added to the list yet. I wiggled nervously on my wooden chair, anxious, with beads of sweat racing across my forehead. When the teacher finished calling out the names, she looked up at me, the only girl who had remained seated.
"What is your name?" she asked.
"Lulu," I mumbled.
She slammed her hand on the table. "Tell me your full name."
"Lulu Taha."
She checked her folder, raised her thin eyebrows, and shot me an angry glance. "Your name is Lilas." She closed the folder, and, returning to her stiff commanding tone, told me to stand up.
Needless to say, I did not stand up. I insisted that my name was Lulu because my name was Lulu. Before that day I had never heard the name "Lilas." I cried as the teacher dismissed my objections and my tears. I cried the whole day.

I was told that everyone in the family called me Lulu because Lilas was so unusual. Over the years, I dropped my childhood persona and accepted my true name. And in this process I noticed an interesting reaction that "Lilas" stirred. People took notice when they came across it, and I came to anticipate a conversation, if not about me, then about my name. It made me feel special in some unique way.

I'll tell you this, though. Sometimes, when my childhood friends instinctively call me Lulu, my heart skips a beat. I immediately regress to that age of purity and innocence, and it never fails to put a smile on my face.

So what kind of name is Lilas? It is the French word for the Lilac flower, but to me it means much more than that.


  1. Ilik what you write it is convinscing.

  2. So when was the first time you knew your name was Lallous?

  3. Nice story Lulu. I didn't know your name was Lilas either for a long while.

    1. I also think you thought I was a boy!

  4. Very cute ... TNT


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