How to Bake a Nickname

by Najla Brown

Ingredients:

1 two-syllable name that’s been marinating in four generations of not-American to be placed on a floured roll sheet for unsuspecting mouths to taste.

1 stick of unsalted child to be left out until her identity melts into something palatable enough to spread on toast.

1/2 tablespoon of corrections poured straight from well-meaning lips upon closed ears.

1 cup of needing-to-belong to accelerate the baking process.

Season with microaggressions to taste. (Roughly chopped racism for garnish optional.)

Instructions:

Step 1: Adjust your oven rack to the first day of kindergarten. Find a teacher standing at the front of her colorful classroom with a white piece of paper held in her pale hands. Listen to her call out all the children’s names—Ashley, McKenzie, Nathan, Andrew, Jimmy. See their faces and hands shoot up as they’re introduced to the class, happy to be recognized. Their names all pronounced perfectly until the teacher gets to yours. Watch her mouth contort into a gag as she spits out each syllable, upset that your family would ever deign to serve her this unsavory snack. Wait until she asks if you have anything else to eat before moving on.

Step 2: Preheat your oven to the approximate temperature of a middle school gym after basketball tryouts. Feel the sting of sweat in your eyes and the scuffed floor against your fingertips as you push yourself to run faster than the thirty other girls pounding the floorboards beside you in an effort to stand out. Use the sound of the basketball ripping through the net as a salve to soothe your cramping calves, but don’t progress to the next step until the coach hands you a jersey and tells you, only you, to listen for your number from now on as he draws X’s and O’s on the whiteboard, writing Marisa next to one X and Sarah next to an O, but you are number . . .

Step 3: Place the two-syllable name and the child just now melting into adulthood in a mixing bowl the size of a college campus. Stir in the one-half tablespoon of corrections gradually as you move about the bowl, entering and exiting the various college classrooms that make up your eighteen-credit schedule. Wait, until you rise like dough from your chair to introduce yourself to your world history class. Wait, until the professor interrupts you, shocked that you would mispronounce your own name. Wait, until he adds his seasoning, an i sprinkled between two consonants, to make you more authentic. Wait, until he takes two points off for spelling before stirring in the last cup.

Step 4: Take your dough mixture out of the bowl and place it on a sheet pan to bake in corporate America for two years. Let the flustered heat of white male superiors test your mixture with meetings where they introduce you to people you’ve never met and some you have. If at any point, you correct how they serve your name like watered-down refreshments, add an extra year to the baking time until their naming process comes away clean from your interference, until they settle on a sound they can swallow.

Step 5: Set your freshly baked nickname on the counter to cool. When it sits up and introduces itself, you’ll know it’s ready to eat.

Najla Brown traded West Texas’s oil pumpjacks for Houston’s oil skyscrapers. She spends her days writing tag lines and her nights writing everything else. Her work can be found in Houstonia Magazine, Coffin Bell Journal, the Molotov Cocktail Literary Journal, and elsewhere.