What's In A Name?

If I’m being honest, I have it pretty easy when it comes to the name department. Teachers always breathe a sigh of relief when they get to my name on the roster because truly, “Elizabeth Kelly” could not be easier to pronounce. “Libby,” however, is slightly trickier; when I give my name at Starbucks, I get some interesting spellings on my cup like “Livxyz,” but for the most part people get it.

However, not everyone is so lucky when it comes to people saying their names. The bottom line is that we live in a predominately white, English-speaking country. People grow up learning how to say biblical names like “John,” “Mary,” and “Elizabeth,” but they do not bother to stretch themselves beyond that. Even though our country is seeing an increasing number of “Isabella’s”,” “Muhammad’s”,” and “Camila’s” [INSERT HYPERLINK: https://catalog.data.gov/dataset/most-popular-baby-names-by-sex-and-moth... ] many people are not adapting and they don’t know how to say or spell these new names.

Take a simple name like Adriana. We’ve all seen this name before, and we probably all have a friend or classmate growing up with that name. However, when I asked my friend, Adriana Hilario, if people ever mispronounce her name, she said the mistakes are constant. Adriana’s name is pronouncedAy-dree-AN-uh,” which seems like a straightforward name to spell and pronounce. However, according to Adriana, the problem is not with the name but the people saying it. Common mistakes with her name include calling her “Adrian,” or “AH-driana,” and she hears either one of those nearly every day. She believes that people at SCU don’t bother to learn her name because it is not important to them. She says, “When you're on a campus with predominately white people, they are trying to make it easier on themselves. So they're appropriating it when they say, ‘Hey can I call you Audrey?’”

Adriana’s name is particularly important to her because it connects her to her culture. She says her parents “wanted a name that can be said in three different languages the same way.” Both her Portuguese-speaking and Spanish-speaking grandparents can pronounce her name the same way, and she says that helps her feel more connected to her heritage. According to her, it is a sign of disrespect when people don’t bother to learn her real name. “My parents named me Adriana for a reason. Nothing else.”

Others feel a sort of identity crisis when their names are mispronounced. For example, Kelsey Ade (Ah-DAY) says people say her name wrong every single time they see it. When asked how it makes her feel, she says, “I feel like they're not talking to me, like it’s not my identity. It’s someone else because I’m not Kelsey ‘Aid.’” Kelsey has no connection to the name “Aid,” so it’s uncomfortable when people try to create that connection for her: “They’re not fully addressing me, they are creating a new identity for that person.”

Kelsey even related the experience to gender identity. She says the feeling when someone mispronounces your name is similar to when someone calls you “sir” instead of “ma’am.” This is a serious issue that many people of the LGBTQ+ community want to bring forward.  Evidence suggests that calling someone by the wrong name or pronoun can be damaging to that person. Creating an identity for someone takes away their power and tries to erase their own identity. The concept of the self is closely tied to names, so mispronouncing the name is misunderstanding the self.

It can be damaging to force nicknames on people when they don’t want them, or pronounce a name incorrectly with no intention to fix it. The effects are insidious, but still very much present. Luckily, the solution is simple: all we have to do is listen. When your classmate introduces herself, listen to the entire name. Don’t cut her off at “Adrian” before she adds that last “a.” Because that last “a” can be the difference between a Mexican name and an American name, or someone’s birth name and chosen name. We all have names that deserve to be used and respected.