AntiRacismforLent. Day 6.
Learn to pronounce the names that give you pause.
This is REALLY important.
All kinds of studies show that people love to hear their own name. I haven’t actually read any about the effects of having a name that people avoid saying, but I want to talk about that.
I feel differently when someone calls me Lou-ann.
Or, when they spell my name incorrectly – even when they can SEE my name as they are typing or writing it.
You know how I feel about those people?
I feel like they don’t care enough about ME to take an extra moment, a tiny bit of effort.
I’ve heard plenty of people talk about this with “simple” or “seemingly obvious” names forever.
The thing is, when we take the time to learn to pronounce someone’s name, we’re connecting to the first non-visual point of their identity. The one that connects them to their parents and their family, who gave them their name, KNOW their name, and undoubtedly pronounce it correctly. It means something. It’s connected to their whole history. The people who love them say it when they see them, think of them, write them letters. Their mother shouted it when she was angry or worried. It’s deeply connected to their soul.
When you shorten it, dismiss it, state simply that you CANNOT say their name, you are diminishing that person’s value.
You are communicating right away, that truly knowing them isn’t worth the bother.
It’s also a lie – you are capable of learning, if you care enough to try.
Here are some likely reasons you’ve said, “can I call you ____, instead?”
– You might think you look stupid as you lean in, and ask them to repeat their name, so you know you can get it right.
– You might be embarrassed.
– You will probably have to say their name more than once to get it right.
– You might be embarrassed.
– You might even need to practice it at other times, when you’re not even with that person. Which feels weird.
Here are a few things that the other person might think, when you’re willing to learn how to say their name correctly:
– You’re humble enough to try something that makes you uncomfortable.
– You have courage.
– You might actually be an ally.
– You care about knowing them.
This is SO, SO simple.
I’m pretty sure it’s actually THE easiest piece of pursuing racial justice.
I have to tell you, it has been so powerful.
There have been so many times that I’ve felt like an idiot as I literally lean in closer or watch someone’s mouth as they enunciate their name, and then try copying it myself, and then sometimes ask them to repeat it before I say it out loud.
There have been so many times that I have seen looks of utter shock that I’d taken the effort to do so, and that I’d actually, then, pronounced it correctly or gotten closer than almost any other white person has… simply because I tried.
Can you remember a time in your life, ever, that someone made an effort to know you, that you knew was uncomfortable for them? Did you feel valued? Worthy of love and belonging? Isn’t this how we want others to feel?
Learning to say someone’s name is literally the least you can do. But you know what, it’s a really good starting point.
I can’t find what I read or watched a long time ago about this topic.
But I did find this personal account, after I wrote this post. And it’s excellent.