A few days ago I was browsing through the YouTube popular page and I came across Uzo Aduba better known as “Crazy Eyes” from Orange is the New Black discussing the pronunciation of her name on Late Night with Seth Meyers. In the interview she said, “My full name is Uzoamaka Aduba. I came home one day and said, ‘Mommy can you call me Zoe?’ Without skipping a beat, she said, if they can learn Tchaikovsky, Dostoyevsky and Michelangelo, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.”
Having grown up with an Arabic first name and Somali last name, Aduba’s experience wanting to change her name to something more palatable deeply resonated with me and many of my friends growing up. Like many people within the African diaspora my name has subject to mispronunciation on a daily basis. I should be clear when I say, it’s not the mispronunciation that offends me, it’s the casual dismissal when corrected. Even more infuriating is when people take it upon themselves to abbreviate my name or give me a nickname to make my name more digestible. In fourth grade I remember a supply teacher reading our class’s attendance for the first time and coming across my name and hesitating and finally she said, “Can I just call you M.” I nodded and for the rest of the day I felt more and more alienated from the class when the teacher called me “M.” Even as a fourth grader I knew that the nickname wasn’t out of endearment it was to provide comfort and convenience to the person saying my name.
I encourage everyone to take their time to pronounce a name they haven’t yet encountered and when corrected make sure to apply it. With time that name will become ingrained in you and will become second nature and no nicknames and shortcuts will be necessary!