Say my name properly, it’s not that hard

Apoorva Verghese, Staff Writer

My name, “Apoorva,” means “unique” in Malayalam, my native language. When my parents named me, they didn’t just choose a name but an aspiration. In my family, my name, as well as those of my siblings, carries strong cultural meaning. However, growing up in the U.S., my name was ugly to me. A hard-to-pronounce name that was objectively inferior to the Western ones that filled my classrooms. 

Czars Trinidad | Layout Editor

For years, I mispronounced my name so that it fit American mouths easily. On my tongue, my name felt acidic. I hardened the soft vowels and twisted the smooth rolls. “A-por-va”, became my name, a rough, coarse shell of the original. Even worse, to Starbucks baristas I called myself “Annie.” 

I wish I could say that my experience was an isolated one, but it’s not. When my brother was six, he asked to go by George instead of his real name. His martial arts instructor couldn’t pronounce it. 

But I became sick of having to mangle my name for the sake of others. In 2019, comedian Hasan Minhaj publicly corrected Ellen DeGeneres’s pronunciation of his name. Minhaj’s decision made me realize there’s no need to cater to those around me.

When I got ready to start college, I decided that I would start again. I would pronounce my name as intended and restore it to its full beauty. During orientation, I made a careful effort to pronounce my name properly. Unfortunately, I forgot that even though I had decided to change my attitude to my name, no one else had made that same decision. Personal introductions would be followed by minutes-long awkwardness, ultimately culminating in my being told my name is just too hard to say. 

But the worst part isn’t just that people can’t pronounce my name, it’s that people can’t be bothered to try to pronounce it. In class, I’m able to predict my name in the roll-call by the awkward hesitance of my teachers. People immediately ask me if I have a nickname — I don’t. Uber drivers will spell out my name instead of trying to say it. 

When people decide that names such as mine aren’t worth the effort, it sends the message that my name, my culture and my life are not worth any effort. And that’s not okay. 

Oftentimes, people tell me they’re worried that they won’t say my name as well as I do, or they don’t want to embarrass me by trying to say my name properly. To everyone who has had these sorts of worries, let me offer you some advice. It’s okay to not automatically know how to pronounce every unfamiliar name you encounter, but you need to try to pronounce people’s names how they want them to be pronounced. If you’re aware that you’re mispronouncing someone’s name, respectfully ask for clarification, look it up or practice it on your own time. But do not just give up. 

I know that my name is not common in America, but I’m so proud of that. My name represents so much more than a word to call me by. It’s a symbol of my culture, where I came from and my parents struggle to bring me here to America. When I purposely mispronounced my name before, I erased all its beauty and allowed people to be ignorant. I gave others control over my own name. 

Unabashedly mispronouncing people’s names creates a cycle of ignorance and disrespect. In an era when we should be striving for total inclusivity, signs of acknowledgement such as making efforts to pronounce names properly are more important than ever. There’s no name too hard to learn, and there’s no person not worth the effort.

I, for one, will not stand for disrespect anymore. So allow me to reintroduce myself.

Hi, my name’s Apoorva – “uh-pur-va”. Say it correctly, I believe that you can.