Mispronunciation of Your Name

“What’s in a name?” Juliet once asked herself in Shakespeare’s play, Romeo & Juliet.

A question that has been recently answered differently by a number of celebrities. Many of them have reclaimed their names that were changed either by accident or part of assimilation in anglicised culture.

English actor Thandiwe Newton used to go by the name of Thandie Newton due to a misspelling when she began her career.

I found myself asking the question again, What’s in a name?. Immigrants to anglicised culture often have their names changed, my own father had a slight adjust to his name and my name has been mispronounced continuously.

And it used to irritate me to no end. Correcting the mispronunciation to have it mispronounced again and then the task of spelling it, I definitely judged others for this.

That judgement came with a rude awakening. When learning another language, I struggled pronouncing other people’s names and names of towns. Basically, I sucked at it.

And thinking back on my father who spoke English well, he struggled with certain sounds in the language. He never meant anyone disrespect whenever he mispronounced English names. His only fault was that he couldn’t make a certain sound that wasn’t part of his native language.

Is there disrespect in mispronouncing someone else’s name that is unfamiliar to them?

Of course, if it is used to insult someone, then Yes. However, most of us aren’t doing that. I speak other languages with an accent and mispronounce words all the time. Giving space for that is something that is required to get there.

So then, when we have space to use our original names, space must be giving also to allow those that have difficulty pronouncing it as well.

At any point in life, we can easily be on the other end.

Terribly mispronouncing names isn’t particular to the anglicised world, we are all capable of sounding ignorant.

Is there so much invested in our name, our identity, that mispronouncing it would shatter it? Or is it merely are own discomfort with dealing with the person mispronouncing it?

A discomfort that, no doubt, drove the anglicised people to change unfamiliar names and others to mitigate that discomfort through assimilation.

Allowing discomfort is the only way, at least that I know of, of allowing the uncomfortable to become comfortable.

I ask one more time, What’s in name? Shakespeare was way ahead of his time, a name is just that, anything we make it out to be becomes a burden we chose to carry every time we’re asked: What’s your name?

I talk more about my journey on learning a language and letting others mispronounce my name in podcast episode 16: Mispronunciation of Your Name. Listen below.