Say Her Name: It’s Time to Respect Ethnic Names

Photograph by Kathryn Poe

“Have you heard from them?”

I clanked my fork on the table and it fell off the corner of my plate. I was struggling to hide my irritation. I knew what was coming.

“Dr. Iel-Eeliki should have called by now,”

I looked at my father and corrected my doctors name — a Pakistani immigrant. My father giggled like a child, said it incorrectly again, and continued eating.

That’s when I left the dinner table.

Over the course of the last two years, this doctor — this man — had spent hours studying literature just to keep me alive. Yet, my father couldn’t even take a couple of seconds to learn how to say his name.

This isn’t an uncommon occurrence. Growing up, I constantly listened while my white classmates mocked and butchered black, hispanic, and other ethnic names.

“Who would go through the pain of childbirth for 9 months just to name the baby Laquisha?”

“Why would you name your child Mohammad? This is America.”

“Your name is Pablo what?”

“How am I supposed to pronounce that?”

There is power in a name. Whether we like it or not, it is one of the most important identifiers in our lives. Entire brands are built on million dollar names like Kardashian and Trump. Barack Obama has been accused of links to terrorism just for having the middle name Hussein. When the newest Disney princess, Moana, proclaims in the movie“I am Moana” she is not simply claiming herself. She is claiming the weight and importance of her culture.

I am Kathryn Poe.

I am.

Think about that.

I understand that names are difficult — I myself am terrible at pronunciation — but they are important. Names are representative of culture and family history. When an ethnic name is ‘dumbed down’ for an American speaker, something beautiful is lost. American culture should absorb, not reject, diversity in every form. How can we argue that we, as a society, provide fair representation if we can’t even try to get a name right?

“It’s just too hard.”

Racism is a subtle beast.

If Tomi Lahren can call out Seal on Twitter for mispronouncing her name and get the full support of conservative America, then I expect them to defend Laquisha too.


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