Names have power. They can connect a person back to their cultural heritage, carry significance, a family connection and so much more. Growing up, I didn’t fully understand the power my name held and how each time I made concessions to nicknames or other pronunciations I was diminishing its value — and denying a part of me.
I grew up hearing people ask my mother, “Can I call you Sam?” when her name was Samira. I heard people tell my dad, “Oh your name is really hard to say … Abdu … can I just call you Abu like that monkey from Aladdin?” These constant questions made me think it was normal to sacrifice a part of your name and your identity to better fit in, and go along with it to be polite because it always felt awkward to correct someone.
Entering college, suddenly, I wasn’t the only one with a non-Western name. I was surrounded by just as many Jamilas or Rashads as I was with Sarahs and Tylers. I soon saw how others didn’t sacrifice their names for easier pronunciation, but rather pushed professors to make the effort. In media, we started to see celebrities correct interviewers or put out videos on how we’ve all been pronouncing their names wrong.
My name has meaning, it was chosen to represent me, and I didn’t realize the disservice I was doing to it until I was in an environment that was accepting of me.
I saw a shift in how we were approaching names — both in and outside of work. It was a stark contrast to what I had been used to for most of my life where anglicizing your name was the norm. I had done it for so much of my life, that it had to become a concerted effort on my part to introduce myself with the correct pronunciation of my own name.
I joined PAN in March of 2022, and since then I have had so many one-on-ones with coworkers, account managers, supervisors, directors, and more where the effort was made right off the bat. Every introduction started off with some variation of “I don’t want to mispronounce your name, can you let me know how to say it correctly?” or “How do you pronounce your name?”
The result? I felt like a valued member of the team — like I was able to represent myself fully, not just a half-hearted attempt to fit in. I felt like my background and my unique perspective were valued and appreciated at work. My name has meaning, it was chosen to represent me, and I didn’t realize the disservice I was doing to it until I was in an environment that was accepting of me.
It made me recognize how important it is to speak up for yourself and recognize that names do matter, and it really doesn’t take much effort to respect and include everyone in the conversation. Often the road to building trust and respect with an employee or colleague starts with a simple introduction.
So, let’s introduce or maybe even reintroduce ourselves.
Hi, my name is Iman. It’s pronounced E-men, like a variation of “amen.” How do you pronounce your name?