Your culture is not a burden. Your name is not a joke.

By: Elisa Do, Contributor

Hi. My name is Elisa. It’s nice to meet you. What’s your name?

Every time you and I introduce ourselves, our names are more than simply names; they are not just a label. Parents all around the world wouldn’t spend months coming up with a name for their child just for it to be anything less than meaningful.

Unfortunately, many names have been chosen — or rather, changed — for simplicity. It’s like how Khanh can become Ken or Rein can become Ryan. There is a trend in anglicizing racialized names so that they can be easier to pronounce. Worse, many folks feel the need to live through another name altogether.

Making your name easier to pronounce so that others feel more comfortable saying it takes away from the individuality of any name.

Making your name easier to pronounce so that others feel more comfortable saying it takes away from the individuality of any name.

My first name was chosen with anglicization in mind. In comparison to many other folks, I’ve had fewer difficulties navigating the pronunciation of my name. But even so, my name has been butchered too many times. And so, the thought of changing my name to make life feel a tad bit easier has always been in the back of my mind.

I have friends who choose to introduce themselves differently today than they had before. I have family who made legal changes to their names in hopes of putting an end to all the hesitation people have about pronunciation and the questions about spelling. I used to think that legally changing your name was necessary to legally change your name. My cousin became Kevin because people made fun of him at school. My uncle became Alex because that was just a given when arriving in Canada.

But changing your name shouldn’t be necessary. Learning to pronounce someone’s name correctly is a part of showing respect for their culture, history and identity. Just as it is important to call someone by their correct pronouns, calling someone by their preferred name should not be optional.

Preferred names should not to be confused with nicknames. Using nicknames for your friends and loved ones is often, and should be, an act of intimacy. But mispronouncing someone’s name without regard for correction or adopting a different name for them without their permission is not the same thing.

Attendance in school is dreadful. I remember when the whole class would giggle and smirk knowingly at our peers whose names the teacher would always butcher. Many of my peers gave in to this constant ridicule. Eventually, they offered an easier name, something the teacher could actually remember. Many of them smiled and laughed with the class. Many of them pretended it was okay.

When someone would mispronounce my name, I used to let it slide.

When I had to interrupt them and point out their mistake, it made me feel small. It felt confrontational. Most of the time there was no apology. Instead, there was laughter and repeating the wrong name again. Most of the time, either they would give up and decide it’d be much kinder to call me something else or I would shrug and say it didn’t matter anyway.

For folks with racialized names and names that hold extremely deep meanings in their family’s history or culture, the disregard for proper pronunciation is a racial microaggression. It can become an insult and have negative repercussions on the individual.

In the study, “Teachers, Please Learn Our Names!: Racial Microaggressions and the K-12 Classroom” Rita Kohli, a professor at the University of California Riverside, researched the implications that certain subtle forms of racism in the education system can have on students.

“It can result in children shifting their self-perceptions and worldviews, and believing that their culture or aspects of their identity are an inconvenience or are inferior. Based on multiple experiences of feeling invisible or different, people explained that as young children they internalized the racial microaggressions and often confused the racism with a burden of their culture,” the study reported.

Culture is never supposed to feel like a burden. Why should folks alter their names for the sake of others instead of others learning to appreciate and pronounce unfamiliar names? How is it fair for students of colour to feel alienated because the majority of people lack consideration for inclusivity?

Culture is never supposed to feel like a burden. Why should folks alter their names for the sake of others instead of others learning to appreciate and pronounce unfamiliar names? How is it fair for students of colour to feel alienated because the majority of people lack consideration for inclusivity?

A name is more than just a name; it carries stories and an identity. Learning to pronounce someone’s name correctly should not be a choice you make on their behalf. And learning that your name is meaningful and should not be taken lightly is just as significant.

So, I ask that the next time you introduce yourself, be proud of who you are, and be considerate of all names introduced to you. Because reminding someone of the importance of their existence in this world is never really that hard.

Image courtesy of C/O Silhouette Photo Archive

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