It happened again yesterday. Nati was at the playground chasing a little boy, shouting, “CJ! CJ!” The kid’s dad chuckled and said, “That’s right. His name is CJ.” Then he turned to me and asked, “What is your son’s name?”
“Nati,” I said.
He looked a little flabbergasted and went back to watching the kids without saying anything more. Now there are two reason why he might have responded this way. The first, much less horrible reason, which I’m inclined to write this off as, is that it was a new name to him and he was afraid that he heard it wrong or that he would pronounce it wrong, and decided not to try to repeat it. The second, and inconceivably common reason, is that he thought I said Nazi…as in Nazi Germany…as in Hitler.
This is not something that happened once. This is something that has happened many times. Someone will ask what my son’s name is. I will say, “Nati.” They will look surprised and concerned and unsure, and then say, “Nazi?”
No. Not Nazi. I even made Yohannes listen to me as I said it over and over again to see if I might be saying it wrong. Does the name that is coming out of my mouth sound like Nazi?
When we were choosing Nati’s first name, we knew we wanted it to be Ethiopian. Especially with us living in the U.S., I wanted him to be able to identify with his father’s heritage. It was actually his grandfather Worku who offered the name Natnael, and we liked it. But I knew that the name wouldn’t roll easily off of the tongues of many of our non-Ethiopian friends and family, so I insisted on a nickname from the start. Nati is a common nickname for Natnael.
Shortly after Nati was born, My father asked Yohannes what his name was. Yohannes said, “Natnael.” My father heard, “Not now.” Okay, then I’ll wait to find out till later, he thought.
The midwife who delivered him asked what his name was. Yohannes said, “Natnael.” The midwife referred to him as Not Tonight from then on.
This seemed to affirm our choice to use a nickname. I had no idea that people would misunderstand his nickname in a way that was So. Much. Worse.
So today, for your edification, I have a short lesson on my son’s first name. It is Natnael. Natnael is the Ethiopian equivalent of Nathaniel. If you call him Nathan or Nathaniel, no one is going to die or kill you. However, here is the correct pronunciation:
Na, pronounced like, “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye.”
t prounounced just like any old letter t is pronounced.
na, as in, “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye.”
el, as in elegant, or elder.
His nickname is Nati. It is not Gnatty, as in, “This place is so gnatty. There are gnats everywhere.” It is not Naughty, as in “You are such a naughty little boy.” Again, no one is going to die or kill you if you say it wrong, but the correct pronunciation is as follows:
Na, as in, “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye.”
ti, pronounced like tea.
How it is not pronounced, is Nazi. If you pronounce it that way, maybe no one will die or kill you, but I might lose it and scream in your face, so just be prepared.