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BERKELEY'S NEWS • JANUARY 17, 2023

Year! Review! Read our 2022 Year in Retrospect Issue!

Hi, my name is: An exploration of identity

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MELANIE WU | STAFF

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Staff

NOVEMBER 05, 2022

Hi, my name is …

Introducing myself to people in a myriad of ways. Oftentimes, it comes down to how I want to appear. On legal documents, it’s Vi; to my extended family, Phuong Vi. But with my teachers and peers, I go by my nickname, Megan.

Before high school, I legally changed my Vietnamese name, Phuong Vi, to an easier name for my teachers to pronounce. Prior to that, I had dreaded the days when we would have substitute teachers — although my parents called me Megan at home, I’d longed for it to be on my attendance sheets. I have only ever been referred to as Vi when I’ve been in serious trouble, and my parents have always told my teachers that I go by Megan. However, not every attendance sheet is printed the same, and not every teacher listens. 

My fifth-grade teacher, for instance, claimed that she only called people by the names that she saw on her attendance sheet. Despite “Nickname: Megan” being indicated right beside my name as I peered over her shoulder at her computer screen, she insisted on calling me Vi. Before I moved for college, I lived in the suburbs of Alameda county. There, it always seemed to be that it shouldn’t be too much to ask that people pronounce my name correctly or call me by what I prefer. Or maybe it is. 

Hi, my name is …

Pretending to understand book discussions in class by simply nodding my head. Growing up, as long as I was studious, polite and quiet, my teachers wouldn’t call on me during class. I was afraid of wrong pronunciations and weird looks, so it was better and easier to just pass through unnoticed.

Looking back on it now, I can see why this was such a great source of distress for me: Perhaps paradoxically, I also blamed myself for not correcting people more often. I failed to recognize that it shouldn’t have to be my job to correct people about my name every time — instead, why don’t they ask me how to say it?

Mispronouncing a name may seem like a small issue, but represents something far larger. When we don’t take the time to learn the pronunciation of people’s names, we’re telling them that we don’t care. Why do we choose to do this? Why do we choose to make people feel less than they are? Why do we choose not to learn who they are? 

We tend to gloss over the impact that it truly has. Our names are a symbol of respect: for ourselves, and our identities. Pronouncing them incorrectly creates a version of people that they didn’t ask for. That we would rather label them than allow them to exist as who they are.     

Our names are a symbol of respect: for ourselves, and our identities. Pronouncing them incorrectly creates a version of people that they didn’t ask for.

Hi, my name is …

Learning to be better. It’s our responsibility to make the conscious effort to learn. I understand that it can be hard, but difficulty is no excuse for ignorance and most definitely not laziness. Names that are not familiar to us are no less important; being harder to pronounce doesn’t make a name less worth pronouncing correctly. Instead of defining someone as foreign or exotic, names should define us as we are.

So ask — never be afraid to ask someone how to pronounce their name. It’s okay to get it wrong the first couple of times, and I know it may seem embarrassing to get it wrong many times, but I promise that people appreciate it so much more when you actively try. On the flip side, too, if someone is pronouncing your name incorrectly, don’t be afraid to correct them. It’s not rude, it’s not a hassle and it’s not unimportant. This is a choice we all have to make together.

For a while, I myself was unsure where I stood. My parents explained to me, growing up, that they had given me a Vietnamese name because I had been born in Vietnam. They also said, however, that my name is also Megan: I get to be a part of both worlds, to use both names, but, ultimately, can choose the one that represents me the most.  

Hi, my name is Megan. 

Today, I always choose to take the time to learn people’s names because I understand the power that our names truly hold. Starting with its pronunciation to the way it’s spelled. It’s a piece of ourselves that we willingly choose to share with the world, and it is a piece of others that we need to take the time to learn about.

So when you’re in class today or meeting someone for the first time, take a minute to ask, “Am I saying your name correctly?” because that’s the difference you can choose to make today.

Contact Megan Le at 

LAST UPDATED

NOVEMBER 05, 2022