“Your Parents Didn’t Immigrate For You To Mispronounce Your Own Name”

by Dr. Punita Rice Culture

Pronouncing Your Own Name Wrong

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)

And a follow-up appeared on my Instagram feed from @the_indian_feminist (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 realized 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.”

I can relate so much to this, because for literally over a decade, I pronounced my own name wrong. And 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, 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.

P.S. – Add me on Instagram here, and on Twitter here.

About the Author

Dr. Punita Rice

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Dr. Punita Rice is a wife and mama, an education researcher, a writer, the founder and director of ISAASE, and an advisor with Johns Hopkins University School of Education's Doctor of Education program. Her work centers around multicultural education and equity, and South Asian American experiences in school. You can read more about Punita and her work here. Punita also writes about life, culture, education, and motherhood here on her blog. She works from home in Maryland, and drinks a great deal of coffee.