The Name Game

It’s “racist” to get someone’s name wrong now?  What will the grievance bullies think of next?

The latest irritating aspect of life that has been appropriated to serve as a “microaggression” and proof of the U.S.’s “systemic racism” is people mispronouncing names. The complaint has gotten a boost from mispronunciations of Kamala Harris’s name, although I’ve never heard one. (I just call her “that phony” or “the jerk” and largely avoid the problem.) This is a continuation of the current trick: if something bad happens to a “POC,” like, say, getting shot while resisting arrest, it’s racism; if the exact same thing happens to a white person, that’s just bad luck, or the dude deserved it, or “Who cares?”

Admittedly, I am especially unsympathetic to the name game. My parents both were terrible at pronouncing names; it was a running joke between my sister and  me. It wasn’t just people’s names either. There was an ice cream store on Cape Cod called “Emack and Bolio,” and we used to ask Mom about it just to hear her say “E-MACK-a-Bowlee.” Because my mother was Greek, all ethnic names magically became Greek names to her. A Boston Red Sox infielder named Gutierrez became “Gouttarras.” My father mispronounced names like he mispronounced many words, and it didn’t matter how many times he was corrected. He thought, for example, that the words “fiasco” and “fiesta” were the same word, “fiesca.”

But in the New York Times weekly column “Work Friend,” this phenomenon was used for race-baiting, aided by the new narcicsism in which everyone’s name is some kind of badge of honor. “Call me what you want, just don’t call me late for dinner!” Dad would say when the misnaming issue came up. Of course, that Jack Marshall, like this one, went through life being called “John” and seeing his name spelled with only one “L.” He didn’t take it personally. He knew that what matters in life is what you do, not what you are called while doing it.

A woman (or man—I can’t tell, because I’m racist, or sexist, or something) named Elaheh Nozari does now agree, however, and wrote,

I find myself in more Zoom calls with senior colleagues I’ve never met. A lot of people find my name hard to pronounce, so I make a point to introduce myself clearly when I enter the Zoom room. More often than not, people don’t remember, and they botch my name…. It’s infuriating and brings back a lot of memories from school, when teachers could never pronounce my name. Should I interrupt these colleagues and tell them how to say it correctly?

The columnist begins her response,

In “Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia,” Aimee Nezhukumatathil, a professor, implores her new students not to be afraid of her brown skin or her long name. She writes, “I know the panic of too many consonants rubbed up against each other, no room for vowels to fan some air into the room of a box marked Instructor.” She expresses real empathy while making it clear they should not fear the ways in which she is different.

Oh, the reason people mispronounced Nezhukumatathil is because they feared “the ways she is different”?  Straw man alert.  The reason they mispronounced (and mispelled I’m sure) Nezhukumatathil is that Nezhukumatathil is a mouthful for anybody except in some exotic locale where it is the equivalent of “Smith.” Back when American immigrants focused on assimilating in their challenging new nation and maximizing their opportunities to succeed (rather than stubbornly holding on to a feature that was almost certainly going to be a handicap), the Nezhukumatathils would have changed their name to “Hills.” End of problem.

There was no shame in this pragmatic move then, and there shouldn’t be now. Would Issur Demsky have become a success in his chosen field had he stubbornly stuck with that name rather than adopting “Kirk Douglas”? I think not, but he did give up the joy of constantly bitching about people mispronouncing “Issur” and calling them bigots because they did.

The columnist continues, “People constantly add an extra n to my name and it irks me and I am not shy about making my irritation known.” Her name, for some unknown reason, perhaps because her parents couldn’t spell, is Roxane Gay. It “irks” her that people tend to spell her first name the way it is universally spelled? Her name is a nom de gotcha.

Roxane the ashole goes on,

Names are important. Your colleagues reveal themselves when they don’t extend you the courtesy of pronouncing your name properly, or asking for guidance. Yes, you can interrupt them. It’s frustrating that you are put in the uncomfortable position of having to do this, but they are the problem, not you.

She can bite me. I’m not playing that game.


45 thoughts on “The Name Game

  1. People like to add an “s” to my last name, for some reason. I guess it’s forgiveable, since there are plenty of people with my name (or some version of it) that is “pluralized.” I usually respond with, “Luckily for you, there is only one of me. I’m sorry if my name gave you double vision.”

  2. Roxane is hardly the worst. I have had several students with ‘phideaux’ (Cajun for fido) or ghoti (fish) names, names cleverly trying to use pronunciation exceptions to get a tortured spelling of a name with a standard spelling. Trying to figure out how these are pronounced is awful. Granted, some of them realize what a pain their name is, but others are insistent you learn their name as an exception to pronunciation rules. Then there was the class with two Lara’s, one who pronounced it Lair-uh and one who pronounced it like Laura and were both touchy about it. These people need to blame their parents, not the people around them. The reason we don’t have man-made global warming is because all the snowflakes are counteracting it.

  3. Nezh-u-ku-ma-ta-thil…am I the only one who remembers that old joke?
    About the spelling technique?

    Gimme a few days; I’ll try to document it here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.