When my parents immigrated to Canada, they wanted to give me a name that held meaning and my roots. My name is of Sanskrit origin and is a common name in southern India, giving me a piece of my roots to take with me wherever I went. As a child, I never felt that my name was any different from the other children’s around me. I viewed ‘Adam’, ‘Sarah’, and ‘Michael’ to be the same as ‘Raj’ and ‘Ravi’.
But things changed once I went to preschool. I became increasingly aware of the fact that teachers around me would have a much easier time saying the names of children who had ‘white’ names. When it came to saying my name or a name of different origin, teachers would stutter and seem unconfident in their pronunciation. When my parents would take me to souvenir stores at attraction sites, I would rush to the keychains only to find that there are only ‘white’ names engraved on them. I would watch cartoons after school and remember that all the characters in the show were given ‘white’ names as well. Incidents like these are what led me to believe that my name is difficult to pronounce. Thus, I began to allow others to mispronounce my name.
Whenever I joined an extracurricular class and the teacher read out the attendance, I knew my name was being called when the teacher started to stutter after pronouncing the first syllable. Immediately, I would just raise my hand and indicate that I am present without fixing my teacher’s pronunciation. I would sometimes anglicize my name to make it ‘easier’ to say by elongating a vowel and changing the intonation of my name. For a very long time, it seemed like I was simply grouped into this section of ‘Indian’ where all the names are similar yet difficult to pronounce. But as I grew older, I decided it was time I stepped up and received the respect that everyone deserves.
Pronouncing one’s name correctly is a matter of giving basic respect. Regardless of ethnicity, race and gender, everyone deserves to be spoken to with the same level of appreciation. Showing such respect is also beneficial in creating an inclusive and welcoming community. Especially since Canada is a diverse country with people of different origin/backgrounds, it is important to treat everyone with equality. Jennifer Dorman, a linguist, had said that “Systemically, people of color and different ethnicities… have been subjected to linguistic discrimination. Particularly when applying for jobs, educational courses, or anything that must be screened by white-dominant societies.” Many know too well the reality of being treated less than someone with a ‘white’ name. Do not take away someone identity by taking away their name, because discrimination can start right from exchanging names with others. As we step into the future, understanding that names come from all origins will only add to the beauty of diversity.
Have you been in a situation where you see a name that you do not know how to pronounce? Here are some tips on how to go about learning someone’s name in a respectful manner.
Don’t be afraid to try their name
People find it disheartening when others give up without trying. Give it your best shot and remember that you can always ask the person directly if you said it right.
Search up online for the pronunciation
Some common and popular names will have audios explaining how to pronounce them, giving you a better understanding of how to say the name.
Note that the audio online may not always be correct, but it will give you a better idea.
Practice the name
Not all names are said right the first time. Don’t be embarrassed to practice it out loud until you get it right.