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Anuksha Savini Wickramasinghe. Without counting all 27 letters, you’ve probably already gotten the sense that my name is long and difficult to pronounce — if pronounceable at all — although I promise you it is. Growing up in the suburbs of Florida, I’ve had the syllables of my name butchered, diced, and boiled into a sad alphabet soup more times than I can imagine.
While going by a nickname has always been a non-negotiable for me, over the years, I have become more confident in correcting people who mispronounce my name. Even now, though, I still find myself worrying about whether it’s rude to correct people who mispronounce my name. I wonder far too often if I should instead just let them mispronounce it until the end of eternity to not make things “awkward,” when in reality, that would admittedly be far more awkward. I’m truly no stranger to the decision calculus of “I guess that’s not terrible,” “it could be worse,” or “at least I recognized that it was my name,” especially as I navigate yet another ice breaker or cold call. My mom and my brother make fun of me for being “insistent” that people say my name correctly — they don’t mind, or even really care if people mispronounce their names. While it is ultimately up to you to decide how much you care about how people pronounce your name, you deserve to have your name said correctly.
Our names are our power. They’re deeply intertwined with our identity, and hold within their sounds a rich personal and cultural heritage. Your name is who you are, and at the simplest level, the primary label by which you identify. After a while of having your name mispronounced, it’s easy to normalize mispronunciations, especially for people of color. Research has shown that negating one’s name can be detrimental to students’ psychological well-being from an early age, causing anxiety, stress, embarrassment, and shame around their name. This, in turn, harms their sense of identity. In effect, name mispronunciation is a microaggression, or a “tiny act of bigotry” as Jennifer Gonzalez defines it. It subtly otherizes already marginalized groups and feeds into a larger system of cultural insensitivity and erasure. In essence, it’s another message that you don’t belong. The mispronunciations build, convincing us that our names, and the significance they carry, are not worthy. Insisting on having your name said correctly is an act of defiance against assimilation, a reclamation of one’s own narrative and identity.
What’s more, name mispronunciation is not an inconsequential mistake, but a widespread phenomenon with pervasive and longstanding effects. Beyond the psychological effects individuals experience, the otherness created by such microaggressions feeds into other areas of marginalization. For example, in Western countries, individuals with non-white names are less likely to receive callbacks for interviews. Instances of refusing to pronounce an individual’s name correctly, especially in mainstream media, also signal that collective society does not value or possess the minimal effort to embrace, let alone accept its diversity. As Hasan Minhaj said on “Ellen” after correcting her mispronunciation of his name, if people can pronounce Ansel Elgort or Timothée Chalamet, they can pronounce Hasan Minhaj. And they can pronounce your name too.
So, you might be thinking — especially if you have an easy to pronounce name — what can you do about mispronunciations? Simple: Ask the person how to pronounce their name correctly. We don’t expect you to get our name on the first try, but your effort in trying to pronounce our names correctly is a simple, yet important, validation of our names, and our identities. As a kid, I would have never envisioned that my name would ever be pronounced correctly during my high school graduation, yet, it was: due to the hours my high school college counselor spent practicing with the school director. Maybe you don’t need to practice someone’s name for hours, but create opportunities for correction — and, crucially, accept corrections as opportunities to learn and grow, instead of as rude or high-maintenance. There are plenty of strategies to learn names, from breaking names down to syllables to associating them with other similar words. If it’s your name that’s difficult to pronounce, or if you know how to pronounce a peer’s name, correct others who mispronounce it.
If you don’t have an easy to pronounce name, unlike my dog, who was intentionally given a simple, two-syllable name to spare her the mispronunciations, learning to love and affirm your full name may have been (or is) a journey. But it’s certainly not mine or yours alone to travel.
As we trek, navigating a world that makes us doubt our names, remember, your name is your power. Your name is one of the first things given to you, and with it, the history and legacy of all those who came before you. Its melodious syllables are yours to fill with stories of triumph and tragedy alike, as you continue to write and define your name and who you are. It represents all that you were, are, and will be.
My name is my power. So say my name. Correctly.
Anuksha S. Wickramasinghe ’24 is a Crimson Editorial editor in Canaday.
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