I remember when my volleyball teammates would greet me with, “Hi Michelle!” upon my entrance to the gym. I had given up on correcting them on the pronunciation of my name, “Mishaal,” because I didn’t have the energy anymore. I always felt guilty when my parents would overhear my teammates calling me by the wrong name, because I did not want them to think I was embarrassed by its actual pronunciation.
Pronouncing people’s names correctly can often seem unimportant, but it is crucial to make an effort to do so out of basic respect for their unique identity. People’s names can carry cultural, personal or familial importance, and attempting to say them properly shows that you value their presence. Even though my name doesn’t carry especially great importance to me, I wish I had corrected people earlier as a way of standing up for myself.
Names on their own are very important for day-to-day interactions. The most respectful way of calling out to someone is to use their name, and most people appreciate it when their name is used in conversations. It is imperative to focus on saying people’s names correctly because names have a profound impact on respectful social interactions.
More specifically, names often have links to one’s cultural identity, which makes it of utmost importance to pronounce them properly. For example, in Inuit culture, names are passed down through generations to honor each person who previously held that name. Names connect the past and the present, and they link generations together. Saying someone’s name correctly not only shows respect for the person you are speaking to, but also properly acknowledges their family and culture.
Outside of specific cultures, many parents name their children after late family members to commemorate their life and legacy. It is our collective responsibility to make an effort to pronounce these meaningful names correctly as a sign of respect for people within our community.
Even if someone doesn’t have a cultural or familial connection to their name, simply having a personal connection to it warrants a proper pronunciation. Some people change their name to one that better suits their identity, and remembering it correctly can help them feel validated and included.
It can feel daunting to have to keep correcting people on the pronunciation of your name. But, it is important to remember that their constant inability to say your name properly is a poor reflection on them, not you. Don’t give people the satisfaction of thinking they said your name correctly. Stand up for yourself and correct people when they say your name wrong.
For students who have just started college, I understand that remembering every single person’s name can be difficult. Though, by simply asking, “Remind me of your name again?” you are not assuming a pronunciation of their name, and you also sound polite. If you feel uncertain about how to pronounce someone’s name, do not “give it your best shot.” It is much better to ask for their name again than to butcher it completely.
If you do end up being corrected for an accidental mispronunciation a few times, don’t take it as a harsh criticism. People have a right to stand up for themselves and tell others when they have made a mistake. The goal is not to villainize one another.
If your name is mispronounced, remember that correcting people is not a sign of over-sensitivity, but of power. You are not correcting people simply because their incorrect pronunciation hurts your feelings; you are taking ownership of your name and holding people accountable for saying your name properly in the future. It is through this accountability that we can create a more respectful community that is comfortable for everyone.
It is my hope that everyone who has been called by some incorrect variation of their actual name works to correct the people around them. You deserve to be referred to by your desired name — don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
Mishaal Ijaz SC ’24 is from San Diego, California. She likes to learn the meanings behind names.