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That’s Not My Name


By Zeinab Saidoun



On this side of the world, in Canada, more than 18 million immigrants have come to Canada since 1867. Yes, I bet a lot of them were Emily, Joe and Sara but without a doubt there was a whole load of Mustapha’s, Aishwarya’s and Yichun’s.

I understand, you think my name is difficult. But my name is simply culturally different. Do you know how much more validated I’d feel if you attempted to pronounce my name before resorting to giving me a letter and calling it a day?

The reason why you resorted to calling me “Z” is because I’m sure you’ve seen many children of immigrants tell you to call them by their first name initial and I’m sure you’ve had a lot of Mohammad’s tell you to call them Moe. That’s different ­– if they suggested you call them a certain name, great, but you shouldn’t feel free to ultimately give them a new identity.

The idea of yet another teacher picking up the attendance and staring blankly at my name scared the crap out of me when I was younger. I didn’t have the energy to sit there and correct their brand new version of my name. My good friends would give me the look and new classmates would giggle in the background.

The struggle was so real, I tell you.

Turns out, my memories aren’t an exaggeration of anything. A national U.S. campaign called “My Name, My Identity,” highlights the importance of pronouncing students’ names correctly and valuing diversity.  They believe that names are one of the first things children recognize, one of the first words they learn to say and simply how the world identifies them. It’s especially important for teachers to know how to pronounce their names correctly as it signals respect and is critical in helping them adjust to school.

Having educators take the time to pronounce their students’ names correctly helps knock down the barrier and validate the student’s identity.

I’ve been asked many times if I’ve considered changing my name or adding a “Western” name as a middle name. My answer to that is absolutely not. Why would I change the beautiful name that my parents carefully chose for me 21 years ago? Why would I check my identity at the door? I mean, yes, it’s SO frustrating having to introduce yourself five times and be given nicknames you didn’t ask for, but I have enough willpower hold on tight to my name.

It often shocks me how many people I met from all sorts of backgrounds and yet, surprisingly enough, they have white names. I won’t make a judgement and say that they’ve all changed their names because I’m sure many have been given those names by their parents. But, if they did change their name, I couldn’t help but wonder why.

A 2012 U of T study by the title of “Why do some employers prefer to interview Matthew but not Samir?” highlights deeply rooted issues in Canada, despite being known for celebrating diversity and multiculturalism. In this study, researches sent out CVs to employers in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. The result? Applicants with Chinese, Indian or Pakistani names were 40% less likely to get a call back than those with European names.

You thought just changing names was bad? In a 2016 study conducted by U of T and Administrative Science Quarterly, 40 % of minority job applicants admitted to “whitening” their CV. This meant removing things that give away their ethnic identity including volunteer and community  experience.

It’s not always as simple as your teacher or co-worker pronouncing your name wrong, but if we’ve gotten to a point where the next step in our lives is based on our names, we’re in trouble. Let’s put our biases and stereotypes aside and value John, Mary and Susie the same way we do the person(s) with the “OMG SUCH A DIFFICULT NAME.”

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