The Lighter Side: Disney Villains and You
By: Jafar Hussain
As a senior at Lehigh, I’ve recently been looking back on the past three years I’ve spent here in a sort of nostalgic manner. Yet there is one very, very important point that extends for as long as I’ve been here; a point that regardless of how much time passes still puts a smile on my face: having people pronounce my name.
Now before I launch into my life experiences, it is necessary to protect the innocent from being embarrassed by any mistakes they’ve made. Let me underline that I in no manner am grossly offended when I am referred to as the villain from Disney’s Aladdin. For comic purposes, I am going to refer to the five individuals involved in this story as members of the Jackson 5. However, unlike the original Jackson 5, four of them will actually matter here.
Now, let’s get to how my name is pronounced, phonetically: it’s JAH-fur. That is, the stress is on the first syllable, not on the last one, as in the movie. As a point of clarification, the initial “a” is pronounced as the “ah” in “father.” Translated from the original Arabic into English, it actually means “calm, peaceful rivulet,” which I think describes my Zen-like character. It’s actually a rather simple name, and pronouncing it properly eventually becomes second nature. In fact, as we’ll find out with one of my good friends, “Jackie,” some people actually get so used to it, interesting things happen.
Next we come to the story about everyone I went to school with prior to Lehigh, a collective sum of individuals we will refer to as “Tito.” Before June 2007, I went by the pronunciation “J-A-fur”, where the initial “a” is pronounced as in “apple.” I moved from my native, far-away land of exotic “Toronto, Canada” in February 1998, in the middle of 3rd grade, to just outside Reading, Pennsylvania, where my family still resides. I, for some reason, never corrected Tito on pronouncing my name correctly. I suppose it was more a “well, Tito’s pronunciation isn’t exactly the villain form, so I guess I’ll go with it.” Then we fast forward to June 8th, 2007, when I graduated high school. Because I had family at the ceremony, I figured I should probably end this charade after near 9 ½ years, and show the world of Titos exactly how my name is properly pronounced for when my name is called.
Oh, and now we come to my Lehigh career. Whether it was orientation, the first day of classes, the first time I’ve met someone, or being called in the Health Center to get my swine flu shot, the villain form made a lovely roaring return. It is here where the final three members of the pronunciation team get their respective stories labeled.
One of my good friends, who we will call “Jackie,” is a success story when it comes to this. Jackie, who is obsessed with all things Disney, has gotten to the point in the two years that we’ve known each other, that when she reads the VHS cover of “The Return of Jafar,” she pronounces it as my name, instead of the Disney butchered version. I appreciate this story for the sole reason that I find Jafar’s beard, manipulative powers, sorcerer staff, and villainous ways to be unparalleled, and I seek to learn from them.
Let’s address the best group of people, the people who initially pronounced my name incorrectly, but quickly found out the correct way and have stuck with it ever since: “Marlon.” I always liked the Marlons, to be perfectly honest. Their profuse apologies after mispronouncing my name became a routine light-hearted occurrence that made for a rather convenient means of breaking the ice when meeting new people. Most people reading the article who have had some kind of contact with me are Marlons. This includes the people in my classes who silently laughed while a professor for the first day (or month) of classes kept referring to me as villain-Jafar, knowing all the while the real way. Also, this includes the professors who seemed to get it immediately, which I had been very happy about as well. If you are in the Marlon family, feel good, because the Jermaines and Michaels are a little frustrating.
The Jermaines are those individuals who cannot for the life of them pronounce my name correct. The prototype Jermaine involves a professor I had for a year, having taken two of his (or her) classes. The classes themselves were incredible, and I enjoyed every day of them. As such, I participated a lot, which did well for my grade. However, just as with John Boehner’s orange skin, and Lafayette’s athletic ineptitude, villain-form of my name was VERY real, and very frequently showcased to the world. Once again, this made for a nice 50 minutes show 3 times a week for my peers in the class who would laugh at Jermaine and his ways. It makes me sad, because both Jermaine as a professor and the whole class of Jermaines (including some students), I think, are like little children who don’t know they are making a mistake with an audience laughing at them. I don’t like to think that other students laugh at the mispronunciation, but I can’t help but revel a little in the fun. Sue me.
Lastly we get to the most unique, one-time, individual pronunciation I’ve ever heard. As such, this degree of oddness gets the label Michael. This is just one individual, from my junior year. A substitute professor for just one lecture while the standard professor was out of town (perhaps in Agrabah, I don’t know), Michael had been called to conduct a discussion on certain ethical challenges involved in the material the course had been covering previously. In calling the roll, Michael pronounced my name “H-AH-fur”. I didn’t know what to think first: no villainous pronunciation, or the fact “HEY, I LOOK HISPANIC TO SOME PEOPLE. THIS IS COOL!!!!” Obviously, now that we’re talking about ethnicity, I may ruffle some feathers. I’m not saying that there’s something wrong with my South Asian background. It’s actually quite fun, with the film industry, exciting colorful clothes, and spicy food. I am going to conveniently discount trips to Philadelphia International Airport (or any airport/gathering of generally suspicious people/Tea Baggers) in this piece. But Hispanic is something I had never gotten before. The pronunciation had been nothing I had heard before, and provided a new perspective on how versatile my name is.
So going forward, just a few observations and comments. First, if you mispronounce my name, we’ll laugh it off together and probably be Marlons of sorts. Second, my Halloween costume probably was better than yours. Third, I had a fun time writing this article, and I hope you had an equally fun time reading it. And fourth, I have a date with Princess Jasmine next Friday. We’re going to see Saw 3D.
Jafar Hussain is a senior at Lehigh. He’s been living in a black lamp with a parrot in the woods behind Iacocca since 1994.