"I love when people respectfully ask me how to say my name. It shows me they actually care."
Saman Shad

30 Jul 2021 - 9:12 AM  UPDATED 30 Jul 2021 - 4:29 PM

As anyone who has had their name pronounced incorrectly, not once or twice but pretty much regularly their whole lives will tell you, pronouncing someone’s name the way it’s meant to be pronounced is a huge deal. I can say this because I’m that someone who has had to work their whole lives to make sure people get this basic detail right.

It’s something the star of the Netflix show Never Have I Ever Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is speaking out about. In a recent tweet of a voice memo she made, she said: “Names are so important, and I find that it's a big part of your identity — it personally is for me, I love my name so, so much.”

She went on to say how when she was younger she would allow people to mispronounce her name because she didn’t want to inconvenience them. I was called Sam from the moment I started school in Australia till I graduated university. I went by this shortened name because I didn’t want to trouble other people.

But also there was a part of me that didn’t want to go to the trouble of correcting them, because it just took up a lot of my own time. Much of this was a consequence of the emotional labour I would need to invest in what were sometimes passing interactions.

While I now insist people call me ‘Saman’ there are many who get the pronunciation wrong. And yet there have been occasions where I have let people mispronounce my name because I didn’t know how to bring up that they had been saying my name wrong. Much of this, I realise is because I didn’t want to make it awkward for them

But for Maitreyi the realisation that she couldn’t have her name continuously mispronounced came a lot earlier than most, especially as she is doing a lot of interviews and publicity for the popular TV show in which she is starring.

As she said in her voice memo, “nowadays, being my great, wise 19-year-old self, I ask people to say my name correctly and I put a lot of active effort... I make sure that they say my name right.”

In a video that went viral on social media, the actress Uzo Aduba, who starred in Orange is The New Black also spoke about why she didn’t change her name after moving to Hollywood. She retells a story of being a young girl and going to her mother and asking her if she could change her name to Zoe. Her mother asked her why, and a young Uzo responded that no one could say her name. The actress goes on to say about the incident: “My mother looked at me and said, if they can learn to say Tchaikovsky, Michelangelo and Dostoevsky, then they can learn to say, Uzoamaka.”   

Uzo's mother reiterating how often Western society will give European names respect but won't extend this respect to Asiatic or African names.

As Maitreyi went on to tweet: “Lets make sure we remember that names have power. pronounce peoples names the way they want it to be pronounced and put in the effort”.

As one of the people responding to Maitreyi’s tweet said, it’s not always easy to know how to ask someone the correct pronunciation of their name. “Normalize making an effort to know how to pronounce other people's names first (esp if you're unsure) or just ask how to pronounce it before carelessly / confidently saying it wrong !!!” they tweeted.

To which the actress responded in hearty agreement by tweeting: “I love when people respectfully ask me how to say my name. It shows me they actually care".

I can reiterate the same. If you’re not sure of how to pronounce my name or anyone else’s just ask them the best way to pronounce their name. You may not get it right, but at least you are being respectful and are trying.

As Maitreyi said - “trying your best with it is all I could ask for”.

Saman Shad is a freelance writer.

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The point is, it’s okay if you get the name wrong. But at least show the respect to have a go.
For many migrants, our surnames are not as simple as you think
The ‘first name’ ‘last name’ convention doesn’t apply to me or some people from South India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Iceland among others, who have patronymic names.
Like Thandiwe Newton I also reclaimed my name
Eventually the PE teacher gave up and said, “how about we just call you Sam?” I remember him clearly, even now, taking out his pen and scratching out my name before rewriting it as Sam. And thus Sam was born.