Names represent people’s culture or religion. Mispronouncing them after learning the proper pronunciation can come off as offensive. QUINN DOMBROWSKI/FLICKR VIA CC BY-SA 2.0

I raise my hand and my teacher ends up calling on me – but totally butchers my name. I feel offended when my coworker doesn’t even bother to try to say my name correctly. I know so many people who have “simplified” or changed their names to more common names so others can pronounce them properly. To those of you who have experienced instances like these, we should not have to accept this.

One of my classmates in high school claimed that it was hard to remember my name, Samiha, so she asked me if she could call me, “Sam” to which I replied, “No.” I take pride in my name. My name is a part of me because it represents my culture, religion, family and a special part of my personality. There are people who know me and still pronounce my name wrong. I’ve heard “Syeda,” “Samantha,” “Samaia,” “Somalia,” the list goes on and on. I, now, don’t respond or don’t turn around when they don’t say my name correctly. If it continues, I turn around and say, “It’s Su-mee-ha,” articulating every single syllable that makes up my name.  

Many people that I know have altered their names or changed them completely to make them more American. One of my friends, an international student, made an American name to go by because people couldn’t say her real name. One of my brother’s friends changed his name from “Mohammed” to “Mo” because no one pronounced it properly and he didn’t want a part of his identity to be revealed. One of my cousins told people to start calling her by her middle name because it was only two syllables. We shouldn’t have to change our real names to fit other’s abilities to pronounce them. By doing this, we are letting them continue to be ignorant and unwilling to try. Also, by giving people the easy way out, we are making them ignorant towards the cultures and religions that the names originate from.

The lack of effort that people put in when trying to pronounce our names shows disrespect and indifference to our identities. It makes us feel outcasted from the people that have common names because they are most likely to get personalized treatment. For example, it sounds nicer when someone greets “Good Morning Samiha!” rather than “Good morning!”

Professors breeze through all the “American” sounding names during attendance, but when they sigh or wait a moment or two before moving to the next name, I know they are going to screw up. It also makes some people feel ashamed for having so called “difficult” names to pronounce. Some people let professors mispronounce them and have to suffer by responding to a different name. Others are embarrassed for having to constantly correct their professors.

People that have decided that it is acceptable to pronounce our names wrong, or give up trying altogether, are conforming to the 1900’s ideas of Americanization. During this time, some teachers purposely mispronounced names of students in order to make immigrants feel like they didn’t belong here – unless they conformed to American ideals. One of the history teachers in my high school said he would never say my friend Senegalese’s name correctly simply because “This is America.” My friend and I were outraged by the teacher’s comment because we knew full well that if we pronounced his name wrong for the entire semester, we would have been penalized or called out.

Teachers and coworkers should put in more of an effort to pronounce our names correctly because we are expecting the same respect that we give to them. We need to take initiative by not giving people a free pass on our beautiful, unique names. I’m not saying that we should pronounce their names wrong as revenge, but that we should enunciate and show them how our names are said so that they know. We should let them know how disrespectful it is that they have been carelessly saying our names wrong. Don’t take nonchalant mispronunciations – make them try.