Ask Sahaj: My longtime friends and colleagues keep mispronouncing my name

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Dear Sahaj: My family and I immigrated to the United States over 30 years ago. We have made a conscious effort to use American pronunciation when conversing in English, especially when it comes to names of friends and colleagues. Much to my annoyance, this is not reciprocated for many of those we interact with. Even those we have known for decades still mispronounce or misspell the names of some members of my family and mine. I tried to gently correct them by using the name in our conversation and stating it clearly. I’ve had it up to here. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I’m sick of putting up with other people’s lack of the same. I don’t care if a waiter, barista or other fleeting acquaintance mispronounces one of our names, but it hurts and seems disrespectful when a long-time friend or colleague does. How do we navigate our personal and professional friendships/relationships? What would you advise?

Fed up: As someone with a “hard” name to pronounce, I understand your situation. It makes sense that you feel devalued and looked down upon when others continually say your name.

It may seem like a small thing to many, but in fact, when others continually mispronounce someone’s name or give them a nickname for their own comfort, it’s name-based microaggression. . And like all microaggressions, it can hurt your self-esteem, make you feel devalued or unworthy or like you have to compromise parts of yourself.

Our names are an extension of our identities and root us in our cultures and family histories. For many, they serve as a central representation of where we come from. Names have meaning, pride, strength and courage, and they deserve to be honored.

It may not help if others mispronounce your name; it can take time and practice to say words or names that are not used in someone’s native language. However, according to your letter, these people did this for a long period of time. And while it sounds like you tried a non-confrontational way of approaching this, I would suggest having a more direct one-on-one conversation with people.

You can decide who’s worthy of that conversation, and it might seem countercultural to be direct, but in doing so, you leave little room for the other person to mishear or ignore what you’re saying.

If you need starting points, here are some scripts:

  • I wanted to take a second to chat with you because you always pronounce my name incorrectly. This makes me feel disrespectful, and I was wondering if we could take some time to practice it so you can get the pronunciation correct?
  • I noticed you always mispronounce my name, so I wanted to give you a phonetic spelling that might help you say it correctly.
  • I wanted to take a minute to address something that hurt me. I noticed you keep misspelling my name, and it would mean a lot if you could be more intentional about spelling it correctly from now on.

You may want to consider sharing more about the meaning or history of your name, contextualizing its importance to you, and educating others. Additionally, you can discuss this problem with other people who support you and ask them to act as allies when your name is mispronounced or misspelled. Bringing in a third party can be especially helpful when the constant mispronunciation comes from someone who holds power or privilege, making it harder for you to speak.

I have to admit that if someone still refuses to say your name correctly after having a direct conversation about it, you may need firmer limits on your level of engagement (if any) with that person . Having consequences for those who disrespect you will maintain your self-respect and can show you which relationships are worth investing in.

You are worthy of respect, and others correctly saying your name is the bare minimum for anyone who wishes to have a meaningful relationship with you.

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