Names are important
Yet somehow in this country, names are devalued, mocked, butchered, and replaced.
I have my own story around what #mynameis that I often share during my talks.
My name is Farah. It’s pronounced with a French accent — “Fah-rah”, not “Feh-ruh” (like Farrah Fawcette). When I came to this country as a toddler, the Haitian pronunciation of my name was only heard by family and members of our small Haitian church. Everywhere else, I had become Farrah. And I accepted it because I wanted to belong and remove the sting of embarrassment that came whenever people couldn’t understand my mother’s beautiful accent. I remember even feeling annoyed that she just didn’t get that “this is how you say my name here.” I thought something was wrong with her for not being able to pronounce it but the problem was never with her.
Many immigrants repress these thoughts until they encounter another person with a similar story, then they begin to remember. I was just a child who innocently thought I had two names. One for the outside world, and one for my family.
It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college that this one girl asked me how to pronounce my name. I told her “It’s Farah but you can call me Farrah”. She then asked, “What does your momma call you?” I told her “Farah”. She replied “If your momma calls you Farah, I’m going to call you Farah!”
Unbeknownst to her, she gave this 19-year-old Haitian girl permission to use her name.
That moment smacked me in the face how this country will almost demand you to divorce yourself from parts of your culture. I don’t know any other nation that you visit that will change the pronunciation of your name. My husband’s name is Michael. His name doesn’t change to Michel or Miguel.
(Guess what? If you head over to Google and type “Michael in French”, you’ll see that the name stays the same in both French and English; Granted there will be a French accent accompanying it. However, if you type “Michel in French” it translates to English as…Michael!
Names are important. They have meaning. They are part of your identity. I so love that LinkedIn has a feature now next to your name so that others can hear how to properly pronounce it. Feel free to head over to my profile and take a listen!
So many of us are shrinking or hiding ourselves…unintentionally enabling systems of oppression. Part of the self-advocacy work I do with clients, especially those who have been racially marginalized, is to learn to get comfortable with others discomfort.
Correct them. Everytime they mispronounce it. Correct them everytime they try to give you an “easier name”.
When you think about allyship, DEI, we’re talking about belonging. Fully seeing and hearing others— All parts of them. Names included.
From recruitment to retainment, your first introduction to someone is often by their name. How you handle that name will let them know if they are welcomed.