|(photo by elvis santana, used with permission)|
Today I read something that broke my heart. Someone was recapping a conversation they had with a former customer. That customer is an immigrant and ... well, let's just say their name is not something like "Mary" or "Kelsie." This person's boss, however, says he is having difficulty remembering her name and makes her wear a name tag that reads "Sally."
I got to this point in writing today's post and have stared at it for hours. Each time I come back to it, my heart pounds. It hits me very close to home, and I go back and forth between feeling very defensive and also having empathy and wanting people to listen, hear and learn. Maybe change.
I have a child with a name that is not common in America.
This child has taken on a nickname to avoid the common butchering of their name.
The name that was chosen by their first parents. Chosen for them. In another country. Amongst pain and poverty and hardship, they were celebrated and given a special place in this world. Just like I was. Just like you were.
They miss their country. They miss their family. They take great pride in their heritage. They struggle in their heart often with the difficult decisions which were made for them. One of the beautiful things they have always carried with them is ... their name.
That name encompasses things that are important to them. People who are important to them. Places that are important to them.
It takes a minute to learn it and understand exactly how to pronounce it. It may take a little practice before it's memorized. The people who do that for my child are saying, "You are worth that bit of time. You are worth it to me, so that every single time I address you, for as long as I know you, I will honor all of you. I want to do that."
That's huge. And it's also rare. Very rare.
I wanted to throw out a challenge.
Some feel angry when they are confronted with things that are foreign. They feel put-out and annoyed. They are upset that their lives have been inconvenienced or that extra is being asked of them to function around someone who does not fit their norm. If that's you, I would ask you to just sit with that for a minute. Feel the anger and frustration. Feel it and then try something new.
Find someone who has a name you either butcher or politely avoid. Very plainly state to them, "I'm afraid I might be saying your name incorrectly. Could you teach me the proper pronunciation so I know I have it right?" And then take the time to learn. And if you have to ask them to repeat it more than twice, and you start to feel embarrassed because you're just not getting it, I would ask you to not pretend you got it and move along. Instead, say, "This is important to me, so I'm going to keep working on it until I get it."
And do that. Keep working on it until you get it. Then call that person by their given name. Honor them and their history each and every time you see them. Practice it, and see what happens.
It is quite likely they have just as much difficulty with American names and have been giving you the same courtesy all along.