Opinion: Stop trying so hard to pronounce our names right

We’re just as embarrassed as you are when you pronounce our names wrong.


(Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

Aksha Mittapalli, Contributing Writer

It’s move-in day. You and your entire family, grandparents and all, spill into your smaller-than-expected dorm room. You’ll hang the clothes that you’ll probably never wear, loft your bed to an unreasonable height, and side-eye the better side of the room that your roommate got to before you. Then, before you know it, you’ll engage in the rite of passage shared with the other glassy-eyed first-years around you. 

On your elevator ride up, you decide that this is the time and place to make friends. You look at the girl next to you and introduce yourself. She shakes your hand and says her name. You say it back to her, and when you notice her wince, you try again. You try five, six more times as she laughs awkwardly at each attempt, until the elevator stops at her floor and she gets off, saying she’ll see you around. You have already forgotten how to say it correctly. 

Our names are the first identity assigned to us, and they usually stay with us for the rest of our lives. How can one feel welcome and respected if the people around them won’t even take the time to learn their names properly? That being said, however, there is a tension between the acknowledgment that our names represent who we are and where we come from and the awareness that some tongues are not used to the sounds of our languages.

I am here to tell you that as much as we acknowledge and appreciate your efforts to say our names correctly, after a point, it just becomes embarrassing for the both of us. It reminds us of how different we are, how much we took for granted back home, and how strange and foreign our identities are in this country.

So for your reading pleasure, here’s a list of compact and comprehensive rules for asking someone about their name:

1. Go ahead and ask what their name means, if you feel so inclined. Expressing interest in origin and meaning is an excellent way of giving attention to their name.

2. You are welcome to say that they have a great name, but stray away from words like exotic or unique. They won’t appreciate their names being fetishized. 

3. You can ask what language their name is in, but please don’t ask them to say something in their language afterwards. They are not circus animals, and their language is not a party trick.

4. Please, please, please don’t ask them if they have a nickname. It is not their responsibility to have a shorter, easier-to-pronounce name for your benefit.  

5. If they have chosen a new name for the sake of convenience upon coming to America, ask which name they would rather be called by, and respect their wishes. 

6. Like most things, learning names can be a skill that requires practice. Address them often and listen carefully when other people who can pronounce it right say it out loud.

Whether a given name or a chosen name, names can be as important (or unimportant) as we would like them to be. We appreciate the effort you are putting in to pronounce our names, and we understand that it takes practice. Trying is key, but I sincerely would rather eat my own foot than hear you continuously butcher my name for the first five minutes of our interaction.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Aksha Mittapalli at [email protected].