What makes a name?

Continual disregard of students’ names causes lifelong negative effects

Addie Gleason and Elle Rotter

Mdalala Abdeljabbar 

Ayaan Sajid 

Yunhao Zhao 

Alysse Custard

Siddharth Sistla

Did you actually read those names? Did you take the time to try to pronounce them correctly? Or did you just skim the words because they looked difficult to pronounce? 

Though a name may seem unimportant, a simple string of letters we use to recognize one another, this perceived unimportance is far from the truth. Every name holds a meaning, a story full of emotion and memory, all connected in equal importance. But what happens when that name is erased, mispronounced and disregarded? What happens when we lose that identity?

The truth is this happens in classrooms across the country every day. Students with “difficult” names learn to go by nicknames and ignore mispronunciations, simply accepting that some peers and teachers just do not care enough to make an effort. We get used to those pauses that substitute teachers make before a name and the subsequent disappointed callouts of “here” from those students who have memorized their spot in the attendance list well enough to avoid the inevitable butchering of their name.

However, this should not be the case. Each form of a name forces a person to take on a new identity. For some, these identities are positive, like nicknames from friends or family. For others, these new identities mean hiding, being forced to make their name easier for those unwilling to learn.

“My name is my identity. It resembles my personality, who I am, and what I like to do; it’s unique to me,” freshman Ayaan Sajid said. “It’s quite annoying [when someone mispronounces my name]. I have probably 15,000 other names than my right name. People always emphasize the ‘A’ or say ‘eye-an,’ and that doesn’t make any sense. It gets me mad sometimes, but I just have to deal with it.”

Additionally, many students facing name mispronunciation hold names traditional to their cultures. Especially in a district where over half of the student population is white, it is easy to feel ostracized and excluded from important conversations. Not taking the proper steps to pronounce students’ names correctly is just one more grain of salt in a much larger wound caused by discrimination.

“Pronunciations aren’t different for no reason, it’s because every culture has their different way of pronouncing things. If a name isn’t pronounced right, it isn’t technically the correct name, even though some people don’t try to mispronounce it. It’s important to always correct people and say ‘This is my name’ because that’s your identity, and you don’t want to be called something you aren’t,” freshman Siddharth Sistla said.

These separate identities create an easy segue for unwelcomeness, conformism and code-switching — switching between two languages or language varieties in one situation. This can be seen in changing a name to be easier for peers and teachers to understand, a name often accompanied by a new personality, one built to fit in with white Americans and avoid bullying.

In theory, this all stems from the feeling of needing to assimilate due to peer or individual pressure, creating a want to blend into the dominant “culture” at school. By criticizing and disregarding names that are “difficult to pronounce,” students and teachers alike create the notion that a student’s identity and culture are not worth their time. From the moment these actions start, a long-held feeling of “otherness” is formed, effectively conveying that being anything other than the cultural majority is unacceptable.

To cultivate a fully inclusive educational environment, we must learn to appreciate the importance of a name and make an effort to pronounce every name properly. Rather than giving others nicknames or avoiding certain name pronunciation, as peers and teachers, it is our responsibility to recognize that every student’s name holds meaning and to erase a name is to erase an identity.