From Now On, You Will Pronounce My Name In My Ancestral Norwegian, To My Satisfaction, Or Be Called A Bigot

If I had a nickel for every stranger that’s pronounced my name “MIchelle” or “Michael”, I would have enough money to not need to interact with strangers at all anymore.

It seems I’ve hit the intersectional lottery.

Or maybe not.

Because mispronouncing peoples’ names isn’t a matter of trying to wrap one’s tongue around a word from a completely different language, with all the inevitable pitfalls

Oh, no.  Like everything one does, and everything one does not do,  h it’s apparently racist. 

 Zuheera Ali and Keya Roy talk to author Ijeoma Oluo and each other about their experiences living in the United States with “difficult” names. They also talk to Rita Kohli, a professor at University of California, Riverside who has done research on the effects of mispronouncing names on students of color.


Spoiler: This practice of mispronouncing names isn’t just embarrassing. It has a long and racist history.

Of course, it’s not complete cultural sensitivity to Jerzy Szczepanski or Solveig Hjelle or even Euan Braithwaite’s names we’re talking about, here.

And if you happen to listen to the podcast at the link – apparently from a program to train young public radio drones – you may reach the same observation I did; that millennials of a certain ideological persuasion collect grievances the same way the seem to love collecting psychological and medical diagnoses; the same way the used to collect Pokemon cards.  The same way their grandparents collected fishing stories.

So anyone who doesn’t pronounce my name “BAIR-g” is a bigot.

By the way, that’s the Norwegian “BAIR-g”, not the German/Yiddish “BEHR-g”. 

15 thoughts on “From Now On, You Will Pronounce My Name In My Ancestral Norwegian, To My Satisfaction, Or Be Called A Bigot

  1. When I was a kid growing up in the South, both my first and last name were routinely butchered. My last name still gets routinely mispronounced. All this time that I tolerated it, I was thinking I was just being patient with people and not sweating the small stuff, when in reality, I may be entitled to reparations…

    I work with colleagues in India. I’ve gotten adept and pronouncing the first names, still working on the last names. Some of them struggle pronouncing the names of me and my colleagues here in the States. Everybody’s making an effort. Nobody here is shy about asking our Indian colleagues how to pronounce their names, which they will happily tell us.

    There’s a handful of times when you want your name pronounced correctly: Weddings, graduations, etcetera –times when you’re the center of attention. Times when a video camera may be capturing the moment. Not when a co-worker may butcher your name. The institutions of “higher” learning seem to be turning out perpetually-offended snowflakes by the thousands. These over-sensitive types act like mispronouncing a name is a malicious act. Not surprising, considering having a different set of political views is equated with being “evil” of “hateful”, and not merely holding them because of a different set of life events that shaped everyone’s world view.

    To these types who might find an uncaring world too damaging to their fragile psyche: The world was here first, it doesn’t owe you anything.

  2. Also if you have a hard name to pronounce out of respect I will try to pronounce it and ask you if I have it right or give it the old college try. And if I have truly no idea Ill ask you, (Not having a car and using Uber a lot for now this is actually a common occurance now) so apparently thats racist now? Ok good to know… too bad I dont care.

  3. I always ask people if I don’t know how to pronounce a name. I want to learn. In fact, learning the correct pronunciation helps going forward when meeting others with similar backgrounds. It gives me an idea about the sounds of certain letter combinations. However, I have met people who won’t even give me the opportunity. They decide to go by another name. Fine, that’s their choice, but then they take it a step further and say, “that’s the name I go by because you can’t pronounce my real name.” I get that they may get tired of people not pronouncing their name, but to assume that no one can makes me look at them as the more biased person.

  4. I just call everyone with a difficult name “Joe.”
    Men and women both.
    No one has ever objected.

  5. “Herro, Mister Primigenius! I am from China! My name is Shui!”
    “Glad to meet you, Joe!” (shake hands)

  6. Somehow I can post comments with the nastiest, most racist words, and yet — and yet — no moderation gaol.
    I understand that some other SITD commenters have a different experience.

  7. MP,

    My brother did the same thing with people who’s names he didn’t know, only he called males Jim and females Jan.

  8. Couple years ago, I managed a construction project for a Chinese company. All the company people were, of course Chinese.

    There was Jerry Zhang, Dennis Cho, Connie (something), Curt Cheng and others. I got a little self conscious, and demanded a Chinese name.

    Tángmù Shíwèifū; damn glad to meet you.

    Chinese don’t have time to play these asinine games, hell, they don’t have time for permits, OSHA or the NEC. They have a budget, and a schedule (We must catch the schedule!!!); nothing else matters.

    That’s why, while we argue about which bathrooms trannies get to use, and which pronouns we are required to use for them, China is landing rovers on the moon, launching the largest solid fuel rockets ever built, building nuclear power plants, dams, and a credible modern armed force.

    Tángmù suggests y’all learn some Mandarin…and get yourselves a Chinese name. Be good pets.

  9. Andy McCabe considered Russia to be the greatest global adversary of the US. At least that is what he said. McCabe used that to justify his anti-Trump mania (democracy be damned).
    Russia is a dying country. In another decade or so they will not be able to maintain a nuclear force. We don’t really have a global adversary, but the Chinese are our most important competitor. The numbers are frightening. The Chinese have high IQ’s and a lot of people, and they push them, hard. They are grabbing control of world resources. We may have quaint ideas about a globalist future where nations do not compete. The Chinese don’t.
    A few years ago I had the opportunity to eavesdrop on a conversation between two grad students, a woman from China and a guy from some small town in Wisconsin. Both were astrophysicists, both at the top of their field.
    They compared educational experience, how they got to where they were. The Wisconsin guy said he had a head for numbers, and pushed himself to get ahead through the UW system and then as a grad student at UC. He said he still talked to the guys back home, but they really didn’t know understand him, and still thought of him as their peer, just another guy getting ahead so he could buy a lake home and another snowmobile. His parents thought he should become a manager or an engineer, somewhere close to home.
    The gal from China described a life of grueling exams, with pressure from her school and parents to study, study, study. One bad exam and she was out, scrabbling for a low wage job with tens of millions of other “average” students.
    The Chinese are not a master race. They have serious governance problems, and their culture is not compatible with modernism in important ways.
    But at least their ruling class does not hate their own people.

  10. Another data point: I was not eavesdropping this time, but chatting with a grad student who did TA work in astrophysics. He told me that it was tricky, and that he had begun to use his cell phone to take pictures of the exams he was grading. This was because some foreign students would alter their answers after the exams were graded, and tell him that he had made a mistake. The grad student rather reluctantly ID’d these cheaters as “foreign students.”
    The pressure to succeed on that side — and it is another side — is incredible.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.