For most of my life, I hated my name. Since childhood, it sounded wrong and too big for my mouth. I remember, in elementary school, my hands getting clammy as I anticipated my name being called for attendance. In my life, my name has been mispronounced more often than it’s been pronounced properly, and yet, for the longest time, I didn’t bother correcting anyone.
I come from a family of immigrants, and my name is a reflection of that history. I opted for nicknames — Mila, Millie, Lu, Lulu, or my middle name, Andrea — thinking they would be easier to say and spell for others. But all this did was end up making me feel more ashamed.
Like many professionals with unique or non-traditional Anglo-Saxon names, my name has presented some career challenges. It is constantly misspelled, butchered, and mispronounced. I answer the question ‘Where are you from?’ pretty much once a week.
Sometimes, I’m referred to by my last name instead of my first — something I’m not sure would ever happen to someone with a more traditional name. Still, though my name can present challenges, it has become part of my personal brand and I now use it unapologetically. It has taken me a long time to develop an honest love for my name, but it’s been worth the effort.
So when a “Dear Abby” response resurfaced on social media earlier this week, I was — like many others — shook. In the column, an Indian father wants to balance his wife's desire to give their future children a traditional Indian name with his own desire for assimilation. “Not only can foreign names be difficult to pronounce and spell, but they can also cause a child to be teased unmercifully,” ‘Abby cautioned. “Why saddle a kid with a name he or she will have to explain or correct with friends, teachers, and fellow employees from childhood into adulthood?”
The suggestion that an ethnic, cultural, racialized, or otherwise 'unusual' name should be avoided to coddle English speakers made me, and many others, angry. And though I am aware that job discrimination is a real problem that causes many people to whitewash their résumés and adopt pseudonyms, the idea that people of color and immigrants 'must' assimilate for others' comfort is infuriating.
I reached out to 11 professionals with ‘unpronounceable’ names for their insight on how their names have affected their careers. Hopefully, these stories will encourage others to reflect on how they respond when introduced to names that are 'uncommon'.