Pakistani-Canadian illustrator, author, and content creator, Anoosha Syed, published her children's book, That's Not My Name, earlier this year. She lives in Toronto with her husband and cat, Link. She illustrated over 20 children’s books and worked as a freelance character designer for clients including Disney Jr, Dreamworks TV, Warner Brothers, and Netflix. As a woman of colour, she tries to illustrate and tell stories with characters who are diverse.
Syed's debut book, That's Not My Name, is a picture book about learning to love your name, finding your voice, and standing up for yourself. The main character, a young brown girl, named Mirha, is excited to meet new friends and school. She feels like an outcast after her teacher, classmates, and people in cafes mess up and call her by the wrong name. Like so many immigrants with hard-to-pronounce names, Mirha in the story considers changing her name.
Loosely based on the author's life, Syed told CBC that she regrets going by the name Shelly in elementary school and Annie in college. She says real names are:
"a core part of people's identities. But when it is continuously mispronounced, it's hard not to feel belittled. And when that compounds over time with the many other big or small ways that people of colour in Canada face bigotry, it can negatively impact your self-esteem."
Syed says her husband, whose name is Danyal, decided to integrate and accepted being called Daniel. She feels he discarded a part of his cultural identity to fit in. In an interview with Diverse Books, she said,
"I wondered about all the kids from the diaspora living in the western world who have his experience, too—feeling like they have to shed their identity to fit in, or they won’t get anywhere in life, and they have to change themselves to make it easy for other people. I felt that was wrong, and that isn’t the message kids of the diaspora should receive while growing up. So I decided that this is what I want my first story to be about."
Syed does understand why actors like Riz Ahmed, the UK actor, shortened his name from Rizwan. However, by doing so, she says,
"When you don't have that sort of representation, you feel left out; you feel like there's not really a place for you in society."
In the book, after Mirha's mother explains that her name means "happiness", she returns to school the next day determined to correct anyone who says her name wrong.