Microaggressions: learn to pronounce our names

Legal trainee Gurjot KaurLegal trainee Gurjot Kaur writes about names and identity, the importance of pronouncing names correctly, and how constant mispronunciation of names can bring up feelings of exclusion and otherness.

My name is Gurjot Kaur. I accept that on the face of it, my name does not lend itself to being easily identifiable as to how it should be pronounced. Whenever I meet someone, I try to assist them with the pronunciation: “It’s like Peugeot, but with a G.” In my eyes, this was nothing hard; it was merely two syllables.

However, one conversation with a friend in the sixth form changed my perception regarding my name. Initially, I noticed that my friend would not address me by my name, but instead, she would wait until she caught eye contact with me to get my attention. I asked her why. She said, “I avoided saying your name in case I offended you by saying it wrong.” I told her that she shouldn’t feel like this, and I went out of my way to try and help her and others, by offering the nickname, “G.” In an instant, I lost five letters of my name, my Indian heritage and my identity.

I have also experienced this in meetings where colleagues have not addressed me by my name. I fear that it is because they have the same concerns as my friend – that they do not wish to offend me. However, it hurts me more so that I am often made to feel left out, or even discriminated against, because of a name…my name.

I have only recently come to accept that my identity is important to me, and I will no longer make sacrifices to it, for the benefit of others. I will endeavour to take pride in my name, my Indian heritage and identity. I am sure that I speak for others when I say, we do not mind if the pronunciation is wrong (we’re more than happy to help/correct you), it’s the fact that you made an effort to address us, include us and acknowledge us, by our name.

Sometimes, we find it challenging to correct others with the pronunciation of our names, because of the position we find ourselves in – I know this feeling being a trainee myself. But, it is often refreshing when others take a proactive approach and say “Sorry, how do I say your name?” or something to that effect. Again, it demonstrates that you are willing to address us, include us and acknowledge us, by our name.

I hope this helps to highlight the importance of our identity and properly pronouncing our names.

1 thought on “Microaggressions: learn to pronounce our names”

  1. MAXINE MCDANIEL

    This is such a common issue. I have a friend who accepted the name his teacher gave him because it was too difficult to pronounce his beautiful African name. The sad thing is that he still goes by that name at work.
    We cannot let our identities be erased.
    I have a simple Scottish surname but often it is mispronounced by Judges, Magistrates and court staff. I can only imagine how often our beautiful names are being butchered. Speak up. I am sure our colleagues want to get it right. Do not compromise.

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