Foreigners Can’t (or Won’t) Pronounce My Name Right
I started university last year in the midst of the pandemic, although not in the way I had imagined. Instead of trying to adapt in another country, I now wake up at odd hours to stare at a screen that's mostly black boxes, unless the instructor is sharing their slides, and cringe inwardly whenever my name is mentioned. If Covid-19 didn't happen, these things would've been a figment of my imagination, except the inward cringing because nobody there would get my name right.
Don't get me wrong, my university is great. My professors and classmates are nice. The student body is diverse, international students making up a significant portion of it. Despite all this and the additional comfort of doing classes right from home, the anxiety of having to introduce myself creeps in.
As an introvert, I like to keep the introduction period as brief as possible. However, I knew that this time it would take a little longer. My name can be difficult on foreign tongues, in this case native English speakers. This language simply does not accommodate one of the phonetic sounds in my first name. I'm not new to this since I've had to explain the pronunciation of my name to non-Bangladeshi teachers at school. This would be the same – or so I thought.
Despite the mental preparation, I wasn't ready for the onslaught of cringe in the first few weeks of the semester, and for my anxiety spiking up whenever the introduction period spiralled into a linguistics lecture. Since they won't get it right anyway, I soon stopped correcting them. In fact, hardly any of them asked for the correct pronunciation, which I thought was a relief.
Over time, I've grown accustomed to this name-butchering. I now respond to something that isn't my name without batting an eye. I thought I'd become numb to it, but when I was sharing this anecdote with friends, I couldn't bring myself to imitate the ways my name can apparently be pronounced. I felt embarrassed, which made me question the numbness I claimed to have felt. Was it just a flimsy coping mechanism?
In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, comedian Hasan Minhaj shared anecdotes about his own name-related mishaps. When he was advised to change his name at the beginning of his career, Minhaj replied, "If you can pronounce Ansel Elgort, you can pronounce Hasan Minhaj."
I wish to have Minhaj's confidence and patience someday, yet it makes me wonder why foreigners who speak in English as their first language are unwilling to ask about names that don't roll off their tongues easily. My university likes to promote their liberal ethos of multicultural inclusivity. While such policies are welcome and reassuring for international students like myself, sometimes the simple act of wanting to know the correct way to say an interesting name can mean a lot.
If you are one such student having to respond to a distorted version of your name every day, I feel you. Hang in there until they get your (and my own!) name right.
Adhora Ahmed tries to make her two cats befriend each other, but in vain. Tell her to give up at firstname.lastname@example.org