What’s in a name?

Recently, Thandiwe Newton, long overdue, was featured with the cover and cover story in British Vogue magazine. Within the article, she stated that her name had been altered to Thandie, and given the system in place within film making, she just went with it, but was now re-claiming her name. A name of royalty. https://www.vogue.co.uk/news/article/thandiwe-newton-interview

At the end of March 2021, in the Globe and Mail, there was an article regarding a South Asian lawyer, and her challenges, in having her name and identity accepted on Bay Street. Suggestions made to take on her husband’s last name, as it was easier to pronounce and other such nuggets of “wisdom”. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/article-companies-must-do-more-to-respect-whatever-name-worker-chooses-to/

This has been an ongoing fight for a long time. In a previous blog, I advised that my mom, due to Colonial pressure in Trinidad, changed her name to an English name, so as to be accepted at school. My father anglicized his name to Sam, when he was working as an Engineer, in Ontario.

Now my name has always caused a lot of angst. Its origins are from Sanskrit. The spelling in Bengali makes perfect sense – সুদেবী. However, giving it English letters to spell the name was a little more challenging. The first 2 letters in my name – Su – have historically been pronounced by all non South Asians, as Sue – like you sue someone in law. However, when you look at the word – Sugar, “Su” is also pronounced Shoe – which is the correct pronunciation of my name.

So, when I started daycare, it was a running battle, for me to explain how to pronounce the first two letters of my name, to my teachers and my classmates and the “sugar” example was not met with any “AHA” moments. This leaves a lasting impression on the identity of a child. And therefore, Sue became the accepted way to pre-fix for my name, especially for a child who was taught to respect her elders. Do not even have me start on pronouncing the rest of my name.

My kids get a kick when people adopt a Southern US version of pronouncing my name, as that apparently, is much more palatable for many.

As an adult, when I provide the proper pronunciation to anyone non South Asian, it is typically met with disbelief and then, quickly reverting back to the anglicized pronunciation of my name. Or making it sound like it comes out of the incantation from an episode of Star Trek.

And like Thandwie, it was a fight that I gave up on, sadly. I kept my name – YEAH!, but I allowed it to be pronounced in an easier way to the prevailing culture here in Canada. And therefore – there are 2 pronunciations of my name – the correct way and the anglicized way.

I love when South Asian people say my name correctly – because it honours the name that represents a part of my heritage and culture. It is a distinctive name and unique, all things that I like. I have written previously on my challenges to keep my full name as my identity and reading Thandwie’s comments and the Globe and Mail article, made me feel like I had made some progress, but had not emerged fully victorious.

And it is an ongoing battle that my children fight. They too have distinctive South Asian names, but are much more common and known. Even with that, the kids are constantly telling us anecdotes about how the pronunciation of their name was butchered or misspelled and I know that this will be an ongoing battle for them.

And the irony is – I find pronouncing certain anglicized names more challenging than South Asian names. Lloyd, Buchanan, Jacqueline – there is a great Key and Peele sketch – documenting this – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKYF_h2K7oU. How on point was this?

But I have figured the names out and I pronounce them properly.

One wonders why the same care has not been given to names from other backgrounds?

But that’s just one Diva’s view.

2 thoughts on “What’s in a name?”

  1. I got over this issue by telling anyone I was meeting for the first time that “My name is Pankaj. If you can picture a Punk rocker with coloured, spiky hair that forma the first part of my name – PUNK and the last part is pronounced the same way – UJ. But, because English is our second language, we messed up the spelling!” It always proved to be a great icebreaker and rarely did anyone forget, or mispronounce my name.
    Just another view.


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