Have you come across the sentiment: “your parents didn’t immigrate just for you to mispronounce your own name?”
One variation of this sentiment appeared from Twitter user @Zablizzle (as seen on the Instagram account for @the_indian_feminist):
“Your parents didn’t immigrate across an ocean for you to mispronounce your own name so it fits better in someone else’s mouth. #stop” (1/2)
“I’m talking abt how ppl adjust their names when they’re meeting new ppl in school, work etc settings so it will be ‘easier'” (2/2)Twitter user @Zablizzle (as seen on the Instagram account for @the_indian_feminist)
And a follow-up appeared on my Instagram feed from @the_indian_feminist (an account that I love, by the way), which screenshotted those Tweets and added:
I know it’s hard to stop, I kept letting people mispronounce my name for so long until I realised I started INTRODUCING myself in the mispronounced version. That got me fucked up. Ever since I just tell people if they’re saying it wrong, and it’s been great.From a post shared by The Indian Feminist (@the_indian_feminist) on Oct 23, 2017 at 9:53pm PDT)
I can relate so much to this, because even now, I often mispronounce my name and have been doing so on and off for literally over a decade.
Yes, I pronounced my own name “wrong” (and still often do).
I know how absurd that is given that I speak and write regularly about name pronunciation in the classroom. I literally have an academic book coming out about South Asian American students’ experiences in schools (more information about the book available here).
And yet, I have to argue that mispronouncing your own name isn’t inherently always “wrong.”
if I’d heard this sentiment while growing up, I think it’s possible that it might have impacted me in a way that maybe could have resulted in my saying my own name right. So hearing this kind of advice might be important for a lot of people.
But I hate that the way it’s framed seems to shame South Asian (and other) kids who engage in this behavior.
A lot of kids adjust their own name pronunciation in an effort to make their own experiences growing up easier (especially for those kids who are growing up in areas that are less-than-diverse).
Cultural identity and acceptance is a journey.
And for a lot of South Asian American kids (and other kids too!), they may just not be ready, or “far along” enough on that cultural identity journey to embrace pronouncing their own names the way their parents might say it.
Or, they might have any other number of reasons for not saying their name correctly.
I think rather than shaming kids for mispronouncing their own names, we should encourage them to embrace their identities and cultures and roots — but not at the cost of shaming them for where they’re at now.
The Name Pronunciation Guide for K-12 teachers is an example of a resource that’s meant to help improve teachers’ pronunciation, and in so doing, maybe remove one of the factors that might influence/lead some kids to mispronounce their own names. Tools like this can help equip educators to do their best with pronouncing “difficult” (ok, foreign) names correctly.
At the same time, it’s critical to remember that kids all have different reasons for wanting to pronounce their names the way that they pronounce them.
If you can relate to this post, please consider sharing your own experience in the comments section below. And if you’re interested, you can learn more about my book here or look at the listing for it on Amazon.