A recent Facebook post opened my eyes to the discrimination many “non-white” individuals face against the most basic form of their identity; their name. While it’s often funny to hear a jittery supply teacher nervously rattle off barbaric travesties during the morning attendance, it’s not so funny when your name is mispronounced every single day. Like your appearance, heritage, and personality, your name is an integral part of your identity, something you have identified with yourself since a very young age. And when that piece of you is constantly degraded, simplified, or downright butchered by everyone around you, it becomes much easier to lose that part of you.
People with more “difficult names” face this kind of covert discrimination every day. In an article I read, a woman named Shailee (pr. “Shuhy-lee”) described how her teachers and friends’ “anglicised” pronunciations led to an attachment of shame and embarrassment to her name, a feeling she would not shake off until well into university. By then she was introducing herself as “Shay,” a nickname that was deemed ‘cuter’ but not at all a reflection of her real name.
I myself have received a little grief over my more “difficult” name. “Catiyana” isn’t really commonplace, so I introduce myself as “Cat” most days. My middle name, which is French, is pronounced “ay-lon-wee”. I’ve gotten several interesting versions of that over the years, the most memorable of which being when a fellow kindergartner exclaimed to my face: “Wait, your middle name is SALAMI?” Needless to say, I avoided bringing that up for years, and I’ve never quite managed to look at luncheon meats the same way.
The truth is, some names are difficult. Some people, no matter how many times you tell them, are still going to call you Fih-tee-mah, when it’s Fat-uh-ma, and vice versa. The important thing is that you do tell them. We are human, and we are capable of learning how to pronounce a few syllables correctly. Don’t let laziness on the part of you or another shrink your name into something you are ashamed of or embarrassed about.
Learn to respect your name, so others will too!. Like it or not, it’s going to be with you forever. (Unless, of course, you decide to change it when you’re thirty-five and in the grips of a devastating mid-life crisis – but by then, all the power to ya. I just wouldn’t recommend Élanwy as a top choice.)