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I once pronounced a student’s name incorrectly for more than a year.

It took his little brother enrolling in kindergarten and correcting how I said his name for me to realize.

When I asked the first student why he never corrected me, he told me he just got tired of doing it. People just pronounced his name wrong. It was that simple. And, he said, it didn’t really matter.

But it does.

There is a great Key & Peele comedy sketch (with a little bit of language I shouldn’t use in school, so be forewarned…) that illustrates how isolating it can be when at teacher is calling you by a name that doesn’t ring true to you.

Names are tricky for us. If it’s one that’s outside of our cultural experience, we may not even know that someone is trying to talk to us.

A couple of months ago, I went to court with one of my students. In her language, people have only one name. It’s our culture that has determined that their given names need to be cut up and that the last syllable becomes the student’s last name. Because of this cultural norm, the judge was calling people in court by names they did not identify with. For example, if your whole name were Samuel, the U.S. government might decide to break it into syllables (Sam-U-El), and then in court, we’d refer to you as Mr. El.

Insane, right?

In Chinese and Vietnamese (and probably other Asian cultures), your last name comes first. And a judge not familiar with this might mix up family name and given names.

It’s isolating. And hard.

I urge you to ask. And double-check. And if you don’t say it right, try again, until you and your student get to a place where you both are comfortable.

When you pronounce my name wrong, I’m never going to trust you.

And how will I learn from you if I can never let my guard down?

 

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