The racist practice of mispronouncing names
When Zuheera Ali walks into a coffee shop, she stands outside the door, opens her wallet, takes out her card, figures out exactly what she wants to order, and she reminds herself: ‘You’re Billy. You’re Billy.’
The barista doesn't believe her, of course. But they can’t do anything about it.
As her co-host Keya Roy says, "You can be whoever you want because you will never see this barista again..."
...Kumar remembers a time in second grade when she had to give a PowerPoint presentation in front of her class: “I was standing in front of my classmates and my teacher had turned on autocorrect. The first slide was just supposed to be my name, but was corrected to read ‘Media K-Mart.’ It was so embarrassing.”
Keya Roy says she has stopped correcting her teachers when they mispronounce her name. “At some point, it’s just futile,” Roy says.
Zuheera Ali says she was never one to let someone say her name wrong.
"My name is my identity, and allowing someone else to say it wrong is stripping me of that," she says. "I feel like as a woman of color, I’m expected to make these changes, especially when I’m at school. But asking me to make my name easier to pronounce is a very unfair way that I have to change."
Says co-host Keya Roy: “I always felt like by giving into that pressure to conform and allowing my name to be butchered, I was somehow making life easier for others...
"My name is a way to push me aside, and most of the time, the people who are doing this don't realize the damage they could be doing to my self-worth and sense of confidence."
"People will try to — as a blatant sign of disrespect — mispronounce my name or mock my name," Oluo says. "I get that on social media all the time."
Oluo says people on social media will "deliberately, wildly misspell my name to show to other people how serious must I be taken if I don't even have what they would consider to be a serious name. It's racist at its core to think that other cultures names are invalid. It's othering and purposefully disrespectful, and it's often used as a weapon against me."
She continues: "It's my name and I won't let anyone take that from me..."
"The changing of peoples names has a racialized history," said Kohli. "It's grounded in slavery — the renaming during slavery — renaming Americanization schools for Latinx communities and indigenous communities, and so there is a lot of history that's tied to this practice that is directly tied to racism."
This history is painful even though it seems so far in the past, Zuheera Ali says. But history is not removed for many African-Americans, many of whom don't know their ancestors' names and carry the names of slave owners...
When I was in Kuwait (2005/06) I met a Navy lieutenant commander with a Polish last name, about 15 letters long. I asked how it was pronounced, and he said it. I lost lost track after the third syllable, and I said, "Ski, yea, got it!" He laughed and said that was what most people called him. We shook hands, introduced ourselves, talked about having unusual names for a few minutes, and went on with our day.
My last name has been mispronounced (FYI, it's Parisian French) for my entire life. I once had it butchered by the announcer at the Superdome in New Orleans when I commanded the Army ROTC Color Guard at a Saints game. And my vagina was never in pain (I'm rephrasing it to be decent) over that. Grow up children, if someone mispronounces your name, politely correct them. If you accidentally mispronounce theirs, don't take offense when they correct you. Otherwise, go back to your safe space and leave the world to the adults.