It’s Not “Exotic”: Respect The Weight Of My Name On Your Tongue
Mansi Kathuria | On 17, Oct 2013
“Give your daughters difficult names. Give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue. My name makes you want to tell me the truth. My name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.”
MAN-see Ka …
Every person with a “complicated” name knows that inevitable pause. It’s the first day of school. It’s an appointment at the doctor’s office. It’s a restaurant reservation. It’s a familiar sense of anxiety, nervousness, and shame.
Sometimes it’s the worst at school, where teachers are trying to learn so many new names at once that the “difficult” ones slip through the cracks. The years I got called Man-see all year because I was too embarrassed to keep correcting a teacher.
Sometimes it’s harder at parties. Loud, drunk people don’t usually make much of an effort.
“Can I call you monsoon?”
“Can I call you M?”
Sometimes it’s the worst when somebody gets it right, but feels the need to comment on it.
“Oh that’s so exotic!”
“Well that’s unusual!?”
“Oh, pretty name!”
You think it’s a compliment. Exotic, original, uncommon. I hear, “You’re not from around here.”
Our names identify us. They can be symbols of where we come from, like my name, which has its roots in Sanskrit. They can be representations of our identity, as is the case for Chelsea Manning. They can be part of a persona or public image, like Lady Gaga and Lorde. They can be mechanisms to fit in or assimilate better like certain nicknames or “American names.”
My mother is named Neeru, but when she took her citizenship oath, she was given the chance to legally change her name. She wanted to confer with my dad, who was in another room at the time, but was not allowed to. She had to make a quick decision. Since then, her legal name has been Neena. While family and friends still know her as Neeru. Her passport, driver’s license, and co-workers know her only as Neena, the name she chose because it would be easier to pronounce. The name she chose to avoid all those awkward moments.
And she’s not alone. I have many friends and acquaintances who have grown so accustomed to the mispronunciations of their name that they have adapted two version of pronouncing it. For the white people and then for the Indian people, they joke. While celebrities are lauded for the unusual names that they give their children, so many people live in shame due to their names, adapting nicknames or entirely giving up on hearing their name properly pronounced.
My name is my history and my identity. It is rooted in my family, the language they grew up speaking, and the linguistic and spiritual roots of India. My name was carefully chosen by my father for it’s meaning. My name is not yours to mispronounce, not yours to make a mockery of. My name is a conscious choice I make. My refusal to adopt a more “American” nickname is a choice I make every day, during every new encounter, at every coffee shop. It is not my job to tell you consistently to pronounce it correctly; it is your job to ask.
It is your job to ask every single person, especially every trans person and person of color what name they would like to be called. It is your job to comply with their wishes. It is your job to learn how to pronounce Quvenzhane Wallis’s name instead of ridiculing it.
You do not get to shame people for their names, or call them strange. You do not get to assume things about a person’s education background or socioeconomic status because of their name. To every person, their name is the most beautiful word, and the one heard the most clearly. Respecting a name is respect for that individual.
To every souvenir license plate keychain that would never have my name on it, to every person who didn’t make the effort to ask, to every misspelling: It is your fault, not mine. My name is not wrong or shameful or complicated. My name is beautiful. My name is part of me.
Written by Mansi Kathuria
Follow her on twitter.
Featured image photographed by Bryan Mullennix, Spaces Images/Corbis. Taken at Playa del Carmen, Mexico and published by National Geographic.
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