As always I can’t avoid various pop culture references popping (ha) up in my head during a topic of discussion close to my personal experience, and in this case it’s definitely the chorus of Say My Name by Destiny’s Child.
I worked with someone once who, striving to be polite and avoid mispronouncing my name, reverted simply to addressing me with “You” most of the time. Which is fine, and which I classify as sweet, but since he had a sense of humour, after a while I started singing “Say my name/ Say my name” at him whenever he spoke to me. When he actually did use my name, it turned out he was able to pronounce it correctly all along.
I wrote recently about things people ask me once I say I’m from Russia, and as often happens in these cases, I also have a Russian name. Actually, if you dig deeper and have time, I might tell you about the Greek origins of my name, its versions in other European languages, its connection to a few other female and male names, but that’s not the focus of this blog post and I’m already talking enough about myself aren’t I?
The Russian name means that there are combinations of letters in it which might be unfamiliar to some people and which further lead to pronounciation that they haven’t come across before. This leads to several scenarios after my introduction, from saying it wrongly repeatedly and trying to convince me this is how it works, to hopefully asking me if it’s actually another name. Um, no. But the response that I ultimately had a problem with and spent some time analyzing was, preceded by a squinty eye or a bewildered look, “What? Hmm, too complicated”, “Too difficult”, “What? No, I can’t say that.”
Now, I understand that in most cases people were simply being frank and in their anxiety to do well all sorts of chatter slipped out. That has happened to me before as well. But if there’s one thing I’m sure of, I’ve never told anyone whose name was new to me that it was “complicated”. I’d simply repeat my hello and then possibly ask during a quiet one-on-one moment how to pronounce the name. And the experience described above has only made me more sensitive, at least I hope so.
My name is not complicated. You just haven’t heard it before. You might not know or remember the existing European versions of my name. Breathe deeply once through your nose and give yourself some time. It’s OK to ask me to repeat it or to let me know you want to get the pronounciation right. In fact, I consider the latter courteous. It’s a polite sort of honesty that is immediately disarming. It also puts anyone at ease, because you are paying attention to your conversation partner. Just don’t force your firm opinions on me.
It might be useful, in general, to stop assuming you’re the first person telling me this. Do you really want to be part of the group who make the same comment over and over? Don’t get me wrong, interest is fine, but it only takes a few seconds to distinguish yourself by making an effort.
Why am I writing about this? Well…Within a few months after I first arrived in my new city I caught myself adding “Yes, it’s a bit complicated” after my introduction as soon as I saw a person pause or ask “Pardon?”, thus cutting off what might have actually been a different interaction, and saying something that I didn’t think was true, essentially lying about myself. I got a nickname which was pronounceable for those around me at the time, but which I ultimately disliked, because it didn’t feel like me. Luckily I shed all of this and met people who simply dealt with new names respectfully and maturely.
I like to stick to simple facts. My name is not complicated. You just might not have heard it before. It doesn’t sound like something that fits in to a paradigm you might have in your mind. But don’t worry, I’ll gladly repeat it to you.
And then we can discuss YOUR name.