Women Who Project is a new interview series highlighting women of color we admire and who inspire us in art and design. Interviews are conducted by guest author, educator, and artist Tanekeya Word.
Pronouncing her name begins with a meditative nasal stop, as you approach the N, freely breathing out your nose and ends with a powerful, turbulent labiodental fricative [f]. Linguistically, it takes willpower: a sense of control and awareness to intentionally pronounce Nuri Abdur-Rauf. Like her name, Nuri is equal parts sun/fire and powerful. She lifts up girls/women, via visual representation, through the passion project Girls with Difficult Names (#gwdn). I chatted with the Atlanta based designer, visual storyteller and typographer on her personal work that “explores ideas on being Black, being female and overall identity.”
How did you arrive at creating the Girls with Difficult Names project?
The creation of #girlswithdifficultnames came from a place of wanting to celebrate and elevate names that don't make the Top Baby Names lists. That aren't easy to say when you first encounter them, but roll off the tongue with repetition. It came from wanting to poke a huge hole in the idea that it's ok to treat such names—and the girls that embody them—differently than names you've seen a thousand times. I believe people don't deserve scrutiny based only on the unique sound and spelling of their name, whether one's name has an origin steeped in culture/tradition or because it came purely from someone's imagination.
I think I've been marinating on #gwdn my whole life. Growing up as a Black girl in the suburbs of Atlanta, with a full Arabic name was interesting, to say the least. During elementary school, I didn't like my name. I thought it was too complicated and only brought me unwanted attention. Kids made fun of it, I got called Mary a lot, there were many raised eyebrows and long pauses. I make very different first impressions with people when I meet them in person vs. when they first meet my name in written form. It often feels like people are trying to reconcile my name with my persona. Sometimes it's negative, sometimes it's just sincere confusion, sometimes it's authentic interest and sometimes there's no reaction at all. Usually, I get questioned about why I have a "full Muslim name" and I'm not Muslim, which I answer. And after people go through that initial reconciliation, the buzz surrounding my name fades away and I just become Nuri. All of these experiences led me to become aware from an early age of all the underlying layers of meaning placed on names and how they become labels or identifiers.
I also began to have a heightened awareness of the reactions to the first names of other girls that were in some way profoundly Black or had a non-American/non-Westernized/ethnic tone. And further, how those reactions to the names were indelibly attached to the way pop culture and mass media reacted to the individuals who happened to have those names. Read more...