That’s Not My Name

If you’ve never met me in real life, then you might not know how to pronounce my name. It’s not a particularly easy name, and so I don’t really blame you.

But if you’ve met me in real life, you probably know how to pronounce my name correctly because I’ve probably told you (several times).

Recently, this question of names and difficult to pronounce names has been on my mind lately.

Growing up in in the Greater Toronto Area my whole life, I’ve had teachers and TAs pause in the attendance, always at my name. I’ve listened to numerous butchered attempts at my name, and have politely corrected the person, nodding as they tell me to please correct them if they mispronounce it.

I’ve also had people rhyme my name with Santa Clause, Nicholas (which it sounds nothing like) and Lip Gloss (which it sort of sounds like).

I’ve also had people ask me if I had another name, an easier one that they could call me by. I know in some cultures people change their names when they move to the West, and so they have two names.

But this wasn’t the case for me. I grew up with friends who didn’t care if their names were mispronounced and Westernized, but I was always a stickler for it. I politely corrected peers and teachers. Despite the difficulty it caused me sometimes, I loved my name (still do) and had no intention of ever changing it.

After going through university, I came to understand these renaming attempts for what they were: colonization. My name does not fit into a neat box of Western culture; it is easily Other. By asking me if I had another ‘easier’ name they could call me by, people tried to colonize me by taking away that which makes me different, and perhaps strange.

My firm belief in pronouncing names correctly has been further reaffirmed in my teacher education program this year. We are strongly encouraged to take efforts to pronounce student names correctly, as it demonstrates that we respect them. A person’s name is their unique marker of identity, and so a teacher should try to pronounce students’ names correctly.

But does this rule apply to everyone else? Living in a diverse society, I believe so. Yet I find this belief challenged on a daily basis.

I’d recently started being more lenient about the name thing, except when I immersed myself in a public school where I had to learn 22 names of students from all different backgrounds, I was reminded the importance of correct pronunciation.

And so I started to correct people at work and school. At work, I received a positive response. My manager gasped dramatically and promised me she’d take efforts to pronounce it correctly from now on. Ever since I (gently) corrected her, she takes greater effort in pronouncing it correctly, which I really appreciate.

And this instance proved to me again that people who have no background in Arabic names can correctly pronounce my name. I’ve gently corrected people all throughout my life, and have been (pleasantly) surprised when people manage to say it properly.

The other instance was at school, when I corrected a peer on his mispronunciation. I repeated my name a few times, the way I always do when people have difficulty. After trying it once or twice, he laughed and told me that I was being too picky.

This stopped me in my tracks. Was I being too picky? Was my desire to be called the name that I was born with a misplaced one? Was my name really that difficult? I don’t know.

What do you think?

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  1. Haneen Ibrahim says:

    I remember in Intermediate school in KSA, the teacher told us a story about a friend of hers, her name was also Ikhlas and she lived in the UK, and because people didn’t know how to pronounce it she let them nickname her ‘Iky’ or something like that, my teacher called her once at work and asked for ‘Ikhlas’ of course no one knew who that was, Ha Ha!
    Anyway, no one had a problem with my name in KSA, but when I came to Sudan, well.. different story, because you see over there it was a BOY’S name! and every time I say my name I have to be faced by the weird glances and the question ‘isn’t this a boy name? O you must mean Haneena!’ I just have to be polite enough and answer, ‘No! for boys it means ‘Kind’ but for a girl it’s a totally different word, my name means ‘yearning’’ and yet the weird look remain. Trust me when culture steps in Arabic doesn’t stand a chance!!
    You know Ikhlas, I think both opinions are respectable, whether one insist on the right pronunciation of her name or whether she choose to change it to something easier for people, I don’t see a problem with that, I see it beautiful either way.
    Haneen Ibrahim recently posted…NaNoing This Year?My Profile

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