I waited a year into working for my last employer before I told the law firm how to pronounce my name the right way. I waited until a firm office meeting, and when other matters came up, I meekly raised my hand.
“Um, my name is pronounced Pree-Thee.”
They all stared at me. Mind you, it was a small firm, so it was easy to feel the 2 dozen eyes glaring at me. The senior partner, a dear mentor of mine, looked at me quizzically.
I had let my fellow employees believe for a whole year that my name was pronounced “Pretty,” like the adjective. It made for funny jokes like, “Hi, I’m Priti,” and, “Hey, I’m Priti, how are you?”
Scarred by a lifetime of mean boys and girls calling me things like, “Pretty Ugly,” and “Pretty Fat,” I liked being able to make my name into a forced compliment. I didn’t trust anyone to compliment me without hiding behind my whitened name of “Pretty” instead of “Priti,” a name given to me by my family that conjured thoughts of love and friendship, not superficial appearances. But, I didn’t trust anyone to care how saying my name wrong made me feel and the way it brought me back to memories of being bullied as a lone, chubby brown girl in a small white town in rural Illinois. I neglected to give my co-workers the benefit of the doubt, that they would want to say my name properly.
Senator Perdue’s recent attack on VP Nominee Senator Kamala Harris’s first name was triggering for those of us in the “Other Names Club.” For me, it was a reminder that my name — something given to me by my parents out of love and adoration —could be turned into something ugly and anti-American and used against me. My name is not ugly nor is it anti-American. Gifted to me in Passaic City, New Jersey, my name is the epitome of American-ness, grounded in a South Asian immigrant story that flourished in the United States.
“My name is pronounced Pree-Thee.”
Terrified, I repeated myself and let my co-workers take turns at pronouncing my name, and in time, they showed me that they were up to the challenge of learning my real name and how to say it correctly. They also made sure the people that worked with our firm knew how to pronounce my name too. I taught them how to treat me, and they didn’t hate me after. Dare I say, they may have respected me more after I told them my truth.
These days, when I greet someone new, I look them in the eye, I introduce myself, with an enthusiastic handshake and eye contact, I politely correct understandable mispronunciations and misspellings, and then I hand them my business card that conveniently has a phonetic breakdown of my name (can you believe that?). I meet them halfway. I do what I can to help those around me succeed when addressing me, but how would they know unless I help them get there?
I have found that the way someone approaches pronunciation of an “Other” name is one of the most efficient ways to learn someone’s character. For me, the best is when someone asks me how to pronounce my name, and they decide not to make the pun about how pretty my name is, as tempting as it may be. The runner-up is the person who listens closely when I tell them they are mispronouncing my name and then works on pronunciation with me. The bottom of the barrel? The person who ignores that my name is pronounced in a specific way and, instead, chooses to pronounce it as they wish. When someone can’t take the time to learn how to say your name correctly, why would they take the time to treat you with respect in any other regard? To me, when someone refuses to pronounce my name correctly, I recognize their disrespect and note my records accordingly.
The reality is, you can’t choose how people will pronounce your name. But, you can choose how to enter any space. Of course, your entry may require navigating unfamiliar territory, but you can always control you. You know you, and you can teach people how to handle that which you know the best — you. If someone has a problem with it, that’s their problem. Repeat after me — that’s THEIR problem. You, however, can control whether you let that person into your world.
Now, I know how to tell people how to pronounce my name, and I don’t let them off the hook if they forget. While this may seem rude or emblematic of a “difficult woman,” I’m not sorry nor should you be.
Say my name right, or keep my name out of your mouth.