A name’s pronunciation matters


My Que Ly understood that her name was hard to pronounce at a young age.

My Que Ly, guest writer

Everyone is born with a name. In America, some are lucky enough to have a generic name (sorry) while others are kept with their exotic and unique name. Nothing is wrong with it. However, the struggle one must face with an ethnic name is… a lot. Maybe it’s just the different phonemes⎯ the basic sound unit of words each language has, but not learning how to correctly pronounce a person’s name is ignorant and insensitive.

My earliest memory is when I was brought to a nursery. I remember feeling scared, knowing my mother will leave me to some strange adults I’ve never met. I remember latching onto my mother’s t-shirt and begging her to not leave me. One of the ladies pulled me off and whispered that my mom will come back. I looked at her in disbelief and started to bellow at an unimaginable frequency. I remember snot dripping from my nose, sticking onto the poor employee’s nice shirt.

When I was introduced to everyone else in the nursery, I remember their eyebrows furrowing in a confused expression that I couldn’t comprehend. “That name” I heard them say. I gave them a confused look and nodded. My family doesn’t call me that, but I didn’t want to offend them. For as long as I could remember, people called me that name. I understood that my name was hard to pronounce at a young age.

Whenever it was a new school year, I just told my teachers to say that name. I dreaded every time a class had a substitute because that meant I would see their heads staring down at the attendance sheet longer than other names like “Emily” or “Sarah” (sorry to the Emily’s or Sarah’s out there).

It was my first day at McKinley and I remember my art teacher pronouncing my name the correct way, but I was so used to that name that I mistakenly corrected her. It’s quite ironic, isn’t it?

Over the summer of 2021, I felt like I was partaking in the problem by letting people mispronounce my name. I didn’t want to become an example people use to justify the mispronunciation of another person’s ethnic name. Right then and there, I texted my close friends to announce this discovery. While I was waiting for their response, I was sweating profusely. Then, I heard a “ding!” “Wait really? We’ve been mispronouncing your name all this time? Why didn’t you tell us?” in grey. I didn’t know how to respond. While I was overwhelmed by the support, I couldn’t understand why I was so compliant.

The next school year was about to start, and I was nervous again. I knew that not everyone would accept this new change. On the first day of school, I tried to fix my teachers’ pronunciation of my name. However, I’m pretty forgetful and that didn’t work out in some classes.

This realization felt weird to me. My parents raised me to not be assertive because it’s rude, so the fact that I was brave enough to do this kind of thing was unlike me. To this day, I still slip up and call myself that name, but it’s a learning process. There are still people that mispronounce my name, but I don’t blame them. Sometimes I don’t even fix the mispronunciation because I’m too lazy and don’t want to repeat that line: “Oh, there’s supposed to be accent marks on my name, but on documents, there’s none of that because-”

Honestly, if you have an ethnic name like me, it’s your choice if you want to correct people or just have a nickname. You are not the Speaker of Ethnic Names, and I think other people need to understand that as well. Just because one person of a community says something, it does not mean it will pertain to everyone.

Remember to live, love, and laugh. Life is too short to allow others to mispronounce your name. Maybe I should take my advice.