July 23, 2019 | 71° F

EDITORIAL: Say my name, say my name (correctly)

Educators are encouraged to properly pronounce students’ names


“What’s in a name?” It’s a famous Shakespeare quote from the classic play of "Romeo and Juliet," where Juliet complains that Romeo’s name, particularly his last name, Montague, is meaningless, and he would be the same man she loved even if he was called something different.

Although Juliet argues that names are irrelevant, names do matter. After all it was their names, the signifier of who they are and where they come from, that kept them apart and forced them to resort to schemes that led to their tragic deaths. Juliet might’ve loved Romeo regardless of his name, but what his name symbolized and what the connotation of his name translated to in the real world had palpable effects. Names are not exactly this era's most pressing concern, yet it would be erroneous to believe that names don’t have an affect on who you are, how you are perceived or how people treat you — it would be erroneous to believe they don’t matter.

So fast-forward more than four centuries since the drama was written, and we still see that what a person is called is full of value and brimming with meaning. But sometimes, it can be botched, disregarded and ignored. Names are a critical part of our identity, so the National Association for Bilingual Education and the Santa Clara County, California Office of Education launched a campaign in 2015 called “My Name, My Identity: A Declaration of Self,” which recently gained traction.

Schools all over the county — mostly in primary and secondary education — are implementing policies to urge administrators and educators to pronounce a student’s name correctly or, at the very least, to the best of their abilities. If they don’t know how to pronounce a name or accidentally pronounce it the wrong way, then they are encouraged to ask the student how their name is pronounced. It may sound like common sense, but it happens too often when this polite and considerate etiquette doesn’t happen.

A multiplicity of awful, personal stories about teachers (or peers) mispronouncing names is not at all uncommon. A black woman in a classroom might be called Sasha, and it isn’t unheard of for an instructor to have called her another so-called “stereotypical” name like Shaniqua or LaToya, essentially disrespecting her individual identity. Or an Indian-American man might be called Nikhilesh, and a teacher suddenly decided that his name is too difficult to pronounce and doesn’t feel like trying, therefore he will have a new name of “Nicky” without asking the student for permission.

Non-Anglo-Saxon names, or broadly, non-European names, tend to be considered “too difficult” to pronounce, and people don’t make the attempt to pronounce them correctly. Uzoamak Aduba, known for her role as “Crazy Eyes” in "Orange is the New Black," made a conscious decision not to change her Nigerian name to something else more palatable for Hollywood. As a child, Aduba asked her mother if she could be called Zoe, since people in school couldn’t figure out how to say her name, and in response her mother said, “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamak.” 

Naturally, there will be times when accidental mispronunciations happen and it isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. It’s a slight slip-up that can be forgiven or shrugged off. Plenty of students probably don’t care what name they’re called, but some do and will try to correct the person addressing them. However, when other people don’t even try to put an effort and are dismissive, or even go as far as imposing another name that the student doesn't approve of, then that’s unacceptable. The act of relentlessly pronouncing someone’s name incorrectly is a form of cultural insensitivity, an erasure of their heritage and a deprivation of the right of a person to assert his or her identity.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 148th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

The Daily Targum

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Targum.